Mount Rainier fired the city’s finance director, DeMornai Blackwell, effective May 7, 2020. The move leaves Mount Rainier without a finance director as city officials begin to tackle budget planning for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2020, as well as try to get caught up on its past-due audits.
In a statement to Route 1 Reporter, Blackwell confirmed he was fired from his post as finance director and alleged his termination was related to an equal-employment opportunity complaint filed with the Prince George’s County Human Rights Commission in early April, 2020. The complaint describes incidents of workplace hostility covering a period from December 2019 to early April 2020.
“It is unfortunate that I was dismissed from my position so sudden, after filing an EEO complaint with the Prince George’s Human Rights Commission regarding my concerns about workplace hostility and discrimination from the City’s Leadership Team,” said Blackwell, who had been the city’s financial director since December 2018. “The city is at a critical financial juncture because it is budget season. It is concerning that the audit completion will continued to be pushed back and the FY2021 budget will be completed without a director of finance.”
Mount Rainier officials have not issued a statement about Blackwell’s firing. City officials did not respond on-the-record to several inquiries from Route 1 Reporter seeking comment on Blackwell’s firing or the administration of the city’s finances in the near future. But one city administration official said Blackwell’s firing was unrelated to his equal employment opportunity complaint. Instead, this official said Blackwell was terminated for a number of reasons, including an allegation that he forged the signature of Blackwell’s predecessor, former finance director Kevin Greenville. This official challenged Blackwell to release his termination letter.
Blackwell said the city’s justifications for firing him, including the allegation of forgery, were baseless. However, Blackwell declined to release his termination letter.
Another city administration official familiar with the situation said the Mount Rainier Police Department investigated an allegation that Blackwell forged Greenville’s signature on paperwork related to the city’s employee retirement plan records in November 2019. The investigation was completed in April. This source said the investigation arrived at the conclusion that Blackwell did sign Greenville’s name on the documents, but found there was no intent to commit fraud.
Instead, the source said the investigation found that, due to a regulatory quirk, the documents required Greenville’s signature specifically, despite the fact he was no longer the city’s financial director. Investigators further determined Blackwell had obtained Greenville’s permission to sign these documents in his name. The source said the investigation found that if the documents had not been filed, it would have “messed up” city employee retirement records. Because of the lack of malicious intent and the lack of quantifiable harm done, the police investigation was never elevated to a criminal matter.
Blackwell said that investigation was concluded April 14, 2020. That same day, according to sources familiar with the situation, the city received a copy of Blackwell’s equal-opportunity employment complaint, which was dated April 9. Blackwell was summoned to City Hall April 15, where he was met by Chief of Police Anthony Morgan and was told he was put on administrative leave. Blackwell remained on administrative leave until May 7, 2020, when he was fired.