The Baltimore County Council is giving itself more time to consider proposed bills to bolster the county’s Office of the Inspector General, after draft amendments sought by the council chair’s office to create an oversight panel were leaked less than an hour before an expected Monday night vote.
The amendments drafted by council attorneys at the direction of chair Julian Jones, which weren’t introduced to the council but obtained by The Banner, show that Jones was seeking to ask colleagues about creating a politically-appointed “advisory board” for the inspector general’s office. The board would be added to legislation from the county executive’s office that sought to strengthen the IG’s subpoena power and have voters decide whether to add the office to the county’s charter.
The drafted amendments would create an advisory board chaired by the county attorney. The county auditor, the council’s legal counsel and the director of the ethics commission would also be on the board, in addition to three county executive-appointed members.
The advisory board would “receive and review notifications of the opening of investigations from the Office of the Inspector General.” The board would issue an annual review of the inspector general’s office and report the review to the council. It would “receive, review, and refer” complaints about the IG to county agencies.
And it would review draft IG investigation reports and either “approve a draft report as written” or recommend changes to the draft report “if the advisory board disagrees with the substance of any item contained in a report.”
Inspector General Kelly Madigan said that Jones never provided her office the draft amendments.
“We paid $100,000 to have a blue ribbon commission study the office’s best practices, take testimony from subject matter experts, have an opportunity for the public to weigh in, and they [the commission] issued a comprehensive final report,” Madigan said in an interview shortly after the bill hearing.
“And then here — this is like a back room type of” deliberation, where neither Madigan’s office nor the county executive’s office are provided copies of the amendment, she said.
“This is being shoved down our throat at the last minute,” Madigan said. “That doesn’t feel very transparent.”
Shortly after the council’s legislative meeting began, Jones motioned to move discussion of the bills to their Dec. 12 work session. Council members voted 6-1 to extend the time to consider and vote on both bills, but many emphasized that they were prepared to vote Monday night on the legislation as introduced by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. Councilman Izzy Patoka voted against delaying the vote of the legislation on the table.
“Due to the discussion that we’ve had internally and individually, I am seconding [Jones’ motion] in order to continue the discussion” in front of the public, Democratic 1st District councilman Patrick “Pat” Young said.
Extending the vote on the bills, and possibly discussing Jones’ proposed amendments, should ensure “the public sees those considerations and has the chance to deliberate over them,” Young said.
“I’m comfortable voting for the bill tonight,” Republican 5th District Councilman David Marks said. “But I understand there are differences of opinion, and we could give the public ... a chance to understand.”
Jones said during the meeting that “in the spirit of being fully transparent,” he wanted to “put the amendments forward to the public.”
”It’s something that we have been discussing and it’s something that was unfortunately leaked,” he said. “We will be discussing various ideas and suggestions as we move forward,” Jones said, adding that “any amendments that we feel we want to add to both bills” will be posted online for the work session.
Jones, a Democrat who represents the 4th District, did not express any opinion of the proposed bills during the council’s November work session discussing them.
In an interview after the meeting, Young said he’s not in support of an advisory board like the one Jones had council attorneys draft.
“I don’t think he has any support [on the council] for an advisory panel,” Young said.
Jones’ draft amendments to establish an advisory board are precisely what Baltimore County’s IG reform commission opposed after meeting throughout 2022. The so-called Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability was convened by Olszewski to recommend changes to the inspector general’s office, after Olszewski sought to have the council vote on an oversight board similar to the one in Jones’ draft amendments.
The county executive’s office was not notified of the draft amendments, according to his press office.
The bills represent “commonsense legislation to implement the recommendations of the independent Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability,” Baltimore County spokeswoman Erica Palmisano wrote in a statement.
“We continue to support our proposed legislation as introduced,” Palmisano wrote. Asked whether Olszewski opposes the creation of an advisory panel similar to the one Jones drafted, Palmisano emphasized the county executive is “supportive of the legislation as it was introduced.”
One of the bills slated to be discussed again next week would make clear the Office of the Inspector General’s subpoena power over nongovernment records, and specify the IG may demand them at any point during an investigation into government fraud, waste, abuse and corruption. Another bill would have 2024 voters decide whether to put the office in the county’s charter.
2nd District Councilman Patoka, a Democrat who has advocated for the inspector general’s records access since the office’s inception, said in an interview before the meeting that he was hopeful his colleagues would approve the legislation Monday evening.
”This is a step forward in terms of Baltimore County being accountable to the public, and I think it’s a good day when the council, the administration and the IG office are all feeling a level of comfort with each other,” Patoka said.
Patoka could not immediately be reached after the council meeting.