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by Mark Reutter9:52 pmNov 28, 20230

Expected fireworks over the future of Baltimore County’s inspector general fizzle

As legislation protecting the office of the corruption watchdog appears to advance, a usually vocal critic opts for silence

Above: Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones listens as Inspector General Kelly Madigan speaks tonight about legislation relating to her office. (Mark Reutter)

Julian E. Jones Jr., chair of the Baltimore County Council and historically a vocal critic of Inspector General Kelly Madigan, had no harsh words tonight for legislation that would enshrine the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in the county charter, protecting it from future dismantlement by political leaders.

Jones briefly but cordially greeted Madigan, who twice before investigated his office, earning his enmity as “too aggressive.”

The Council chair has previously chastised Madigan for investigating a complaint that he used the county email network to solicit campaign donations and aided a businessman who wanted the county to repair a private alley.

But tonight Jones and other Council members showed no inclination to amend the legislation to give Madigan full and unrestricted access to county records.

The OIG now must request documents from the administration and wait several days – and sometimes several weeks – for the records to be pulled.

Since her appointment in 2020 as the county’s first inspector general, Madigan has warded off attempts by County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s staff to limit access to certain information.

The new legislation would reduce the present number of days – from 90 to 30 – needed to lapse before Madigan can issue a subpoena for non-county records that were not presented upon request.

Step in Right Direction

Peta Richkus. a Towson resident and former Maryland secretary of general services, said such delays undercut the OIG’s “watchdog” purpose of rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in county government.

Recommending a strategy first suggested in a Baltimore Brew op-ed, Richkus proposed an amendment giving the OIG the same power as the county auditor to inspect any county record without interference or delay.

Her suggestion was met by silence at tonight’s work session and, based on past practice, will not be heard of again before the Council votes on the bills next Monday.

Madigan told the Council she supports the legislation. She called the two bills a step in the right direction, telling The Brew, “I am working with the administration on best practices and direct access to records.”

The bills were prepared following a study of the OIG’s structure and functions by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability.

The panel was formed after Olszewski faced a public backlash after he tried, with Jones’ help, to restrict Madigan from obtaining so-called “privileged” records and require her to disclose future investigations to an oversight board for review.

madigan olszewski 2 Shared Water System Report; December 21, 2020

County Executive Johnny Olszewski listens as Kelly Madigan sums up the findings of a 2020 probe into failures in regional water billing conducted with the Baltimore City OIG. (Charm TV)

Olszewski Takes Credit

Simultaneous to tonight’s work session, Olszewski’s political committee sent out a letter lauding his commitment to transparency and support for the OIG.

“Since taking office, County Executive Johnny O has taken unprecedented steps to ensure that the Baltimore County government is accessible, transparent and held accountable,” the letter begins.

“Johnny created the Office of the Inspector General to rout out corruption from Baltimore County and put trust back into our local government. Now Johnny is continuing to build on the progress we’ve made and fighting to strengthen the Office of the Inspector General,” it continues, before asking respondents to “take our survey and let Johnny O know what you think about his efforts to strengthen the Office of the Inspector General.”

Email sent out tonight to campaign contributors by Friends of John Olszewski Jr.

From the email sent out tonight to campaign contributors by Friends of John Olszewski Jr.

Council Foe Gone

Madigan came under public attack by Jones in 2021 after she wrote two critical reports about wasteful spending at the Baltimore County Agriculture Center under William “Chris” McCollum, a county employee with deep ties in Democratic Party circles.

Jones was joined by Middle River Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, whose longtime campaign treasurer was McCollum.

Last February, McCollum was charged with stealing $111,000 from Bevins’ campaign.

He is now serving a six-month sentence in the county detention center, while Bevins – who said she was totally deceived by McCollum – decided earlier not to run for re-election.

With Bevins gone, there appears to be little appetite in the Council for undercutting the OIG.

At the work session, Councilmen David Marks and Izzy Patoka thanked Madigan for her efforts on behalf of county residents.

Currently, the OIG has four employees and a budget of $520,741, a sliver of the county’s $4.9 billion budget for FY 2025.

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