Baltimore officials are demanding $26,000 from the wife of mayoral challenger Otis Rolley, claiming that she improperly took paid leave that she was not owed — but the candidate and his wife say she was forced from her city job as part of what they allege is political "bullying."
The conflict surfaced on the eve of early voting for the Democratic primary — a month after a city payroll official asked Charline Rolley to repay the money she had received for mistakenly allotted leave time. Rolley says she had been assured last year that the time was rightly hers.
The Rolleys accuse Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of ordering City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young to force Charline Rolley to take leave from her job in Young's office during the campaign, an allegation that both Rawlings-Blake and Young deny.
"The administration has tried very hard to try to get me out of this race," said Rolley. "They tried to intimidate me, and when they were unsuccessful at intimidating me, they tried to attack my wife."
Rawlings-Blake's office denied ever intervening in Charline Rolley's employment, pointing out that Otis Rolley's mother, sister and brother-in-law are city government employees.
A mayoral spokesman described the Rolleys' claims as "ridiculous."
"Three of Mr. Rolley's relatives are on the city payroll and actually work for the Mayor," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said in a statement. "The only issue is that the taxpayers are owed $26,000 and whether that money will ever be repaid."
Young says that Charline Rolley chose to go on leave in the spring and that he did not push her to go.
"The mayor did not pressure me to get rid of Charline," he said. "Nobody pressures me."
Young hired Charline Rolley to direct community outreach and constituent services in February 2010, when he became council president.
She has been on leave since the spring, when her husband, the former city planning director, intensified his campaign to unseat Rawlings-Blake. Both Young and Rolley say that she agreed to remain on leave until after the election, although they dispute how she came to take the leave.
Whether she will be paid for this period of leave is also a source of contention. Rolley says she took leave with the belief that she would be paid, but was told weeks later that she would not receive a salary — and that she must return pay she received during this and previous periods of leave time.
Charline Rolley contends that Rawlings-Blake and her aides had been needling Young to force her out. She cites as proof an email and a text message she sent Young in January. Otis Rolley had been campaigning for mayor since late 2010.
"With all the pressure you're getting from the Mayor about me, should I still attend today's council lunch meeting, or not?" she wrote to Young in January, according to an email she provided to The Sun.
"I would not," Young replied.
Young said he is often terse in emails, and the fact that he did not dispute Rolley's claim about Rawlings-Blake does not mean it was true.
He said he dissuaded Charline Rolley from attending Rawlings-Blake's State of the City speech in February.
"I would not let her do the State of the City," he said. "Why would she even want to? I thought it was a conflict because her husband was running for mayor. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out."
Rolley says she chose to leave because Young stopped speaking to her and no longer allowed her to attend community meetings — a key part of her job.
The issues concerning Rolley's leave time emerged in May, when an aide to Young informed Charline Rolley that the city inspector general wanted to talk with her about it.
"That was the first time I had any inkling I didn't have all of my time," Charline Rolley said.
Because of a computer glitch, she had previously appeared entitled to about 60 vacation days and 60 sick days, according to payroll records and city officials.
Charline Rolley had previously worked in City Hall from 2000-2006 as an assistant to then-Mayor Martin O'Malley. Although she was paid for unused vacation time when she left city government, she was inadvertently credited for the old time when she returned, according to city officials.
Charline Rolley said she did not notice the abundance of vacation and sick time until August 2010, as she prepared to take maternity leave for the birth of her second child. She said asked the staffers in Young's office who oversaw human resources about the time she was allotted, and was assured that it was correct.
"I was pregnant and I had a small child and my husband was running for mayor. I just trusted what the experts told me," Rolley said. "Who am I supposed to ask if I'm not supposed to ask the HR experts in my office?"
But Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said that the council president's aides were basing their information on a computer database and that Charline Rolley should have checked with city payroll officials.
On July 6, Charline Rolley received a letter from the city demanding $26,000 for the time she had used while on maternity leave, caring for a sick child and, most recently, during the campaign.
Otis Rolley said that the couple would not pay the money and said that it was "interesting" that the bill came a day after the final deadline for candidates to register to run for city office.
"We will not pay for their errors," he said. "If in fact it was an error, it was an error made by the City of Baltimore, and I, among all the other 620,000 citizens of Baltimore are tired of having to pay for their mistakes," said Rolley.