The Baltimore County Council voted unanimously to write into law its inspector general’s subpoena power over noncounty records Monday, and to have voters decide whether to enshrine the office in the county’s charter in the 2024 election.
Council chairman Julian Jones, who sought to amend the legislation to add an inspector general advisory board and weaken the office’s subpoena power, chose not to introduce those amendments.
Before Monday’s vote, Jones said he brought those draft amendments to the floor during the council’s Dec. 12 work session after hearing from county employees “and other stakeholders” who were concerned about oversight of the county’s investigator of government fraud, waste and abuse.
“I continue to share their [county employees’] concerns about privacy due process and government checks and balances,” Jones said during the meeting.
But “without diminishing the importance of those concerns,” Jones said, “I have decided to move forward with the legislation as proposed without any amendments.”
The legislation allows the county’s Office of the Inspector General to subpoena nongovernment records at any point during an investigation, without having to request them and wait 90 days first.
The office can also now subpoena county records after 30 days if the records aren’t delivered. And the legislation requires the council to justify any annual budget decreases for the IG’s office.
The legislation passed Monday does not make it easier for Inspector General Kelly Madigan to obtain public records, an ongoing issue for the office. Madigan is supposed to have “unrestricted” access to county records, per the county code, but has faced obstacles from county officials when seeking information. Madigan has stressed that she wants direct access to records, without first having to request information from a county agency or private entity.
The referendum council members authorized Monday would not guarantee the IG’s right to full records access nor the office’s subpoena power in the county’s charter. Olszewski and Madigan said that county officials are writing internal memoranda of understanding outlining how she obtains county information.
Association of Inspectors General president Will Fletcher told The Banner in November that MOUs with government agencies are unheard of in other inspector general’s offices, which should have the ability to directly access information contained in electronic databases and other files.
The changes passed Monday come from recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability, which Olszewski created in October 2021 to reform the inspector general’s office. Olszewski propped up the commission after his office’s draft bill to create an inspector general oversight board leaked in July 2021 and garnered scrutiny.
The commission opposed an IG oversight board in February 2023. A similar fate befell Jones, whose draft amendments for a politically-appointed oversight board similar to the one Olszewski considered were leaked earlier this month before they could be introduced.
Jones brought different versions of the leaked amendments to the public last week that changed the makeup of the advisory board to one that was not politically-appointed.
Emails obtained by The Baltimore Brew show that Jones had emailed council members Dec. 3 through nongovernment email addresses to meet to discuss the draft amendments, before the council was expected to vote on the bills. It’s not clear whether the meeting, which could violate Maryland’s Open Meetings Act, occurred. Jones has not publicly addressed the emails.
On Monday, Jones thanked residents and county employees as well as Madigan for a “spirited” debate over his proposals.
“This is exactly how the legislative process should work,” he said.
Councilman Izzy Patoka said Monday that the county is on “a productive path” to bolstering the inspector general’s office after previous years of contention from prior council members.
“There were bumps in the road,” Patoka said, but Madigan’s work, combined with the possibility of securing her office in the county’s charter, are pushing Baltimore County toward change and a “level of continuity.”
Olszewski created the Office of Ethics and Accountability and named Madigan its executive director in December 2019. Madigan later requested the council rename her office as the Office of the Inspector General, so she could become certified as an inspector general.
Correction: This story has been updated with the correct month that a draft bill to create an inspector general oversight board leaked in 2021.