Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan told the council Tuesday that having authority to obtain noncounty records without being required to first request them is essential to her role in upholding county accountability.
The Baltimore County Council is taking up two bills requested by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. One bill would codify the Office of the Inspector General in the county’s charter, and the other would enable Madigan to subpoena noncounty records at any point during her office’s investigations of government fraud, waste and abuse.
In the law that created her office, Madigan is not explicitly authorized to subpoena those records — the law governing her office only says the inspector general must wait 90 days before issuing subpoenas to government employees for information needed for her investigations, and only after her office has first requested them.
Madigan told the County Council that she asked the county executive’s office to remove the waiting period and clarify her authority to subpoena records in the legislative proposals currently before the council.
When it comes to private entities related to an IG investigation, “it doesn’t make sense to ask first when you have the ability to legally demand,” Madigan told the council.
Contractors, for instance, could alter requested records before delivering them for investigation. Madigan told the council the requirement to first request records from an entity could undermine her investigation.
Most council members revealed little of their thoughts on bolstering Madigan’s subpoena authority in the county code, and whether to add a 2024 ballot question that could enshrine the Office of the Inspector General, created nearly four years ago, in the Baltimore County charter.
One notable question, though, came from Councilman Izzy Patoka, who asked Madigan about her ability to access records, and how that compared to the ability of Baltimore City Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming.
Is there anything the city IG “can do that you can’t?” Patoka asked.
Madigan said her city counterpart “probably has easier” access to records that what she is currently afforded. Partly, the former deputy state’s prosecutor said, that’s because Cumming is empowered to subpoena records at any point during the city office’s investigations.
Beyond that, Madigan suggested Cumming is able to more easily access records because city agencies know how to cooperate with her well-established office, created almost two decades ago. Madigan’s office, meanwhile, has only been in place since January 2020.
Comparisons to Cumming’s office are notable. Both the city and county IGs have previously weathered public disputes with elected officials they’re appointed to hold accountable. Both have faced issues of politically appointed oversight boards.
But one difference between backlash against the city and county IGs is that the county executive’s office has made headlines for hampering Madigan’s ability to quickly obtain government records, including by ordering her to disclose how the records she requested related to her investigation.
The county executive-requested bills come from the February recommendations. Madigan said during the council meeting that some of those recommendations, like ensuring her office has unrestricted access to records, aren’t included in the proposed bills, but are being discussed privately.
Madigan and the county executive’s office are currently drafting internal agreements about records access, which the Association of Inspectors General says is unusual.
“Change is somewhat difficult to come by,” Patoka said during the council meeting after Madigan’s remarks.
Olszewski “has implemented a significant amount of changes and I think it’s for the good,” Patoka continued. “But sometimes, people in the jobs that we have are doing things the same way.”
The County Council is scheduled to discuss the IG bills at its Nov. 28 work session and vote Dec. 4.