With a look back at past corruption in Baltimore County, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Monday announced plans to strengthen the county’s inspector general’s office and ensure employees comply with investigations.
After invoking the names of Spiro Agnew and Dale Anderson — two former county executives who ended up with federal convictions — Olszewski said that he recognizes “that Baltimore County has to continue to do better.”
“While we are proud of the many actions we’ve taken to strengthen our ethical standards and to restore public trust, we will continue to seek ways to make our county even more open, accessible, transparent and yes, ethical,” Olszewski said during a news conference at the Historic Courthouse in Towson.
The Democratic county executive is proposing to put the Office of the Inspector General into the county’s charter, the document that dictates how government operates. Under Olszewski’s proposal, the charter would also include a provision requiring that the inspector general’s office is funded.
And he’s proposing to strengthen the inspector general’s subpoena power by clarifying that the office can immediately issue subpoenas to nongovernment employees when warranted. And if a county employee doesn’t comply with a request for documents or information, the inspector general would be able to issue a subpoena after 30 days, instead of the current 90 days.
Olszewski also issued an executive order reminding county employees that they have a duty to comply with inspector general investigations.
Olszewski’s proposal would need approval by the County Council, and the charter changes would then go to voters to approve in the next election.
The executive and council members had disputed Madigan’s findings and criticized how her office conducted investigations. The Olszewski administration, at one point, directed Madigan to submit written requests for records to the county executive’s office, despite laws stating she’s entitled to unrestricted access to government records during investigations.
Madigan said she was still reviewing Olszewski’s proposals.
“I was recently provided with a draft of the proposed legislation and am still reviewing the document,” Madigan said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the County Executive and County Council to implement the recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Commission and ensure that the Office of the Inspector General continues to operate under best practices.”
Olszewski previously fulfilled some of the commission recommendations by boosting the budget of the Office of the Inspector General and creating a separate position of ethics director for county government.
“Collectively, these are transformative policies that will make us even more accountable and ethical than ever before,” Olszewski said.
He expressed confidence that the County Council will support his proposals.
There still are recommendations from the commission that are yet to be carried out, including giving the inspector general’s office direct access to county documents, records and emails.
In other governments, including Baltimore City, the inspector general can directly obtain records as part of their investigations without having to ask an agency employee to produce them.
After announcing his proposals, Olszewski was joined by James Keffer from the Historical Society of Baltimore County in unveiling informative plaques next to the portraits of Agnew and Anderson that hang among other county executives in a long hallway in the Historic Courthouse.
Olszewski said he’s been fascinated by the actions of men who held the county executive’s office before him. While he previously knew a little bit about Agnew, he dove into the former vice president’s conduct by listening to Rachel Maddow’s podcast, “Bag Man.”
“As a former history teacher, I know personally how important it is to remember our history,” Olszewski said. “And unfortunately too many people do not know the full story of Spiro Agnew or others like Dale Anderson, a Democrat who followed him in corruption.”
Fifty years ago, Agnew, a Republican, resigned as vice president of the United States as he pleaded no contest to one felony charge of tax evasion.
The charge was the result of a federal investigation that documented a long-running pattern of Agnew accepting bribes, which went back to his days as governor and Baltimore County executive. Agnew had been the county’s third county executive, serving from 1962 to 1966.
Anderson succeeded Agnew, winning election in 1966. In 1974, Anderson was convicted in federal court of 32 counts of tax evasion, extortion and conspiracy, following a 10-week trial.
After serving a stint in federal prison, Anderson, a Democrat, made a political comeback, serving one term in the House of Delegates in the 1980s.
Anderson is also known for rejecting federal money to build low-cost housing in the county and opposing civil rights measures.
Both Agnew and Anderson died in 1996.