Baltimore County’s commission to reform its inspector general’s office recommends county officials refrain from establishing a board to oversee the county’s top corruption watchdog and make it easier to subpoena information.

The panel, appointed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., instead suggests the county inspector general’s office, headed by Kelly Madigan, be subject to human resources rules should employees files complaints against the IG, which investigates public fraud, waste and abuse.

The recommendation for no oversight or advisory panel sits precisely opposite of the changes that Olszewski sought to impose on the county’s first inspector general office in summer 2021 that would have created an oversight panel appointed by himself and the council chair. Olszewski pulled the proposal after public outcry.

Pivoting, the Democrat appointed the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability to recommend IG reforms in October 2021.

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The report also recommends Madigan retain the authority laid out in bylaws that established the IG office in 2020 to have “direct access to government records/materials whenever possible.”

The commission suggests the inspector general and Office of Information Technology develop agreements to formalize record production policies, including access protocols, confidentiality of requests for information and limitations on disclosure. The commission recommends the information technology agency, which would field requests from Madigan’s office that present “statutory, contractual or regulatory barriers,” shall maintain Madigan’s records requests “in confidence.”

And the commission recommends bolstering Madigan’s ability to subpoena information by reducing the 90-day period she’s currently subject to wait before she may issue subpoenas. The recommendations suggest Madigan would not have to wait at all before going through the courts to obtain records from non-county employees, and 30 days before issuing subpoenas to county government workers.

In a statement, Madigan said her office “is grateful that the commission has made recommendations consistent with what the office believes to be best practices for offices of inspectors general; direct and unrestricted access to records, independent investigations and no oversight or advisory board for the office.”

The changes, Madigan wrote, “will continue to ensure that the office remains independent from outside influences and adheres to its mission, all while providing the citizens of Baltimore County with a proper return on their investment — an independent watchdog committed to rooting out fraud, waste and misconduct.”

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During public virtual meetings held over the last year, most commission members were dead set against creating a board that could open the door to politicization, given what they frequently described as a “tense” dynamic between Olszewski’s administration and the inspector general office created in his first term.

The former deputy state prosecutor has faced near-constant pushback from Olszewski’s administration and County Council members. They have disputed the accuracy of Madigan’s findings and the way she conducts investigations in official public responses, and the administration also ordered that she submit written requests for records to Olszewski’s office, despite laws stating she’s entitled to unrestricted access to government records during investigations.

“Since taking office, I’m proud to have made Baltimore County government more open, accessible, and transparent than ever before — including the creation and expansion of our first-ever Office of the Inspector General,” Olszewski said in a statement.

Olszewski created the Office of Ethics and Accountability and named Madigan its executive director in December 2019. Madigan later requested the office be renamed so she could become certified as an inspector general by the Association of Inspectors General. Olszewski expanded the office this year by three positions, bringing Madigan’s staff up to six, including four investigators.

“We look forward to carefully reviewing the recommendations and remain committed to implementing best practice policies that further enshrine the values of transparency and accountability into the culture of our government,” Olszewski said.

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After Olszewski’s office reviews the recommendations, county spokeswoman Erica Palmisano said legislation will be brought before the council. Palmisano did not say when the council is expected to receive the bill.

taylor.deville@thebaltimorebanner.com

Taylor DeVille covered Baltimore County government for The Baltimore Banner with a focus on the County Executive, County Council, accountability and quality of life issues affecting suburban residents. Before joining The Banner, Taylor covered Baltimore County government and breaking news for The Baltimore Sun. 

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