Inspector general report says Baltimore County spent $70K to benefit businessperson at council chairman’s request

Baltimore County’s top administrator asked Madigan not to publish ‘incorrect’ report

Published on: November 17, 2022 10:03 AM EST|Updated on: November 17, 2022 7:32 PM EST

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, a Republican, and Democratic council chair Julian Jones sit in the County Council chambers before a budget announcement in April 2022.
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Baltimore County officials spent nearly $70,000 from a program intended for homeowners to instead help a businessperson quickly repave a Towson alley next to their business, at the insistence of County Council Chair Julian Jones, according to an inspector general report issued Thursday.

In a vehement denial of many assertions in the report, Baltimore County’s top administrator, Stacy Rodgers, asked Inspector General Kelly Madigan not to publish her findings, which Rodgers said are false, and in part motivated by “political incidents from a prior administration.”

Jones said in an interview he categorically denies “some of the assertions in the report.”

“I did nothing wrong,” he said. “I did literally what I do every day, which is advocate for hundreds of people in Baltimore County.”

Jones declined to be interviewed by the inspector general in August after the office insisted the interview would be recorded, according to the report.

Madigan wrote that Department of Public Works Acting Director D’Andrea Walker and Rodgers went against policy by using money from the county’s Alley Reconstruction Program, which is meant to help residential communities use public dollars to fix deteriorating alleyways, to help a business owner repave a privately-owned alley between Baltimore and Washington avenues in downtown Towson.

Jones’ involvement in the project appeared to change “the process that had been used within DPWT [public works] to evaluate the merits of accepting an alley into the ARP as well as the methods used by DPWT to award and carry out the work,” Madigan wrote.

Emails included in the inspector general report show that Rodgers verbally approved using program funds to pay an on-call contractor in October last year to repave the alley, despite objections by the chief of highway design, the alley reconstruction program manager and two senior public works employees.

The business owner is not named in the report, but the properties identified are owned by limited liability companies that share the address of Mid-Atlantic Properties, a property development and management firm that’s also located on Pennsylvania Avenue — outside of Jones’ western 4th District. Mid-Atlantic’s president, Wayne Gioioso, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mid-Atlantic Properties and Gioioso are both prolific donors to political candidates. In 2021, the company gave $5,000 to Jones’ campaign and Gioioso personally gave $2,500, according to campaign finance reports. In April 2022 , Gioioso made an in-kind contribution to Jones’ campaign worth $561.86, according to campaign finance reports. The explanation is listed as “In-Kind for Ryleigh’s Oyster.”

Asked whether Jones interceded on Gioioso’s behalf in exchange for campaign contributions, the retired Anne Arundel County fire chief said: “It is unfair to somehow suggest that his contributions to me resulted in me doing something for him.”

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“A lot of people make contributions to me — it has nothing to do with the contributions,” Jones said. “I work for people every day who give me no contributions.”

In early 2021, the report says the business owner received a phone call from Jones unrelated to the repaving. The phone call spurred a meeting with Jones at the businessperson’s office in April of that year, when the business owner mentioned they’d asked their council representative to repave the alley for a decade. The businessperson believed and told Jones that the alley is publicly-owned, according to the report.

The business owner told Jones the deteriorated alley has led to structural problems causing water damage in their buildings, the report said.

In an interview with The Baltimore Banner, Jones said the business owner never asked to secure the program funds for the project, and he insisted the alley is county-owned. According to the inspector general, the alley is collectively owned by the business owner’s six surrounding commercial businesses and a church that owns two properties there.

But Jones pressed forward on the business owner’s behalf, approaching the former highway design chief about the alleyway around April of last year, the report said. Jones was told the county does not repair commercial alleys, alleys that don’t serve the public or alleys that are owned by one person, according to the inspector general.

According to testimony from the highway chief cited in Madigan’s report, Jones responded with “words to the effect that they did not care and wanted it done.”

Jones said he “never even had that conversation.”

Codified in 1995, the alley repaving program is geared toward helping residents in aging communities repave private alleys. Typically, the process involves multiple neighbors organizing to petition the county for program dollars. The bill establishing the law specifically referenced alleys abutting residential properties that would benefit from repairs, such as enhanced property values, public sanitation and public safety, according to the report.

The law allows the public works director to approve repaving projects if the director “finds that such improvements are needed to alleviate conditions that threaten the health, safety and welfare of abutting property owners.”

The law also stipulates the county is responsible for maintaining alleys repaved with program dollars for 15 years.

Public works managers and some professional staffers who were interviewed by Madigan said that the program, in practice, reserves money for homeowners. The alley repaving program manager wrote in a June 2021 email to the acting chief of engineering and construction that they believed the county’s process to approve the Towson project was “unethical.”

When asked by the inspector general if there were any local policies to support the project’s approval, the program manager said there were “none, other than the fact that management wanted it done,” Madigan wrote.

An April 2021 email shows Walker said the request to repave the private alley with public dollars came from Jones, “who wanted to know if the county could make an exception for the alley,” while the business owner submitted the requisite paperwork.

The business owner told the inspector general that they insisted to Jones that the county owned the alley. Within days of the councilman’s phone call, the business owner met to discuss the project with public works engineers and a county on-call contractor that went on to quickly repave the alley.

But the alley paving program manager and their supervisor, the chief of highway design, told Walker in spring 2021 they were uncomfortable with the arrangement and advised against it. The head of the repaving program requested to be excluded from the project, and Walker obliged.

Ultimately the county solicited M.T. Laney to perform the repairs for $69,900.

In a nine-page response sent to the inspector general’s office Nov. 14, Rodgers wrote “the administration unequivocally does not concur with many of the conclusions presented in your report,” which she said were either incorrect or “based on incomplete facts.”

Rodgers went on to say that “it is clear” the repaving program manager who called the county’s action “unethical” did not understand the program “as there are no program restrictions limiting alley repairs or replacements to residential, concrete alleys.”

Rodgers also said that Walker is authorized to use discretion in deciding which projects move forward, and that the bylaws establishing the alleyway repair program don’t make clear the program is reserved only for residents. The county has made exceptions for commercial businesses in the past, such as repaving the Watkins Way for the Towson Chamber of Commerce, because it is heavily trafficked.

The head administrator added that a number of Madigan’s assertions about her office’s procedures are inaccurate.

“I am referenced multiple times in the report,” Rodgers wrote, and “I find it rather curious — and unfortunate — that your office did not interview me — or even request an interview of me — as part of your investigation.”

During a press conference in Middle River announcing a new recreation center, Olszewski was asked whether he believed there should be consequences for county officials who circumvent standard government processes. He said: “Yes, but I would say if you look at the thorough and complete analysis and response” provided by Rodgers, that he doesn’t “think that’s the case here.”

Madigan wrote she doesn’t dispute that the law as written does not explicitly prohibit program money from being used for commercial alleys. However — based on the office’s interviews with public works professional staff and program managers, as well as language on the county website that says alleys eligible for the program must be “located in a residential, non-commercial community” — she wrote that absent a “compelling” reason, the program “is intended to be used only for residential alleys.”

Years of contention

Jones, a Democrat who was reelected last week to a third term representing the western 4th District, is among council members who have criticized Madigan for how the former state prosecutor conducts investigations into government fraud, waste and abuse. Jones and fellow Democratic council members Cathy Bevins and Tom Quirk, ambushed Madigan during a budget hearing last year.

The trio came prepared with questions they hurled at Madigan about the cost of her business cards, her access to government emails and her personality.

Jones, 59, accused her of targeting employees who work for Black female department heads in investigations, which are initiated by complaints submitted to her office. Bevins, who did not run for reelection, said the county “made a mistake” when it didn’t create an oversight board to check its inspector general when the office was created in 2019.

“Maybe it’s your demeanor, maybe it’s your procedure,” Jones told Madigan then. “It scares people.”

The rebuke came on the heels of an inspector general report that faulted a former economic development official and Democratic campaign staffer for purchasing farm equipment for the Baltimore County Agricultural Center in a manner that violated the county’s procurement rules.

Bevins and Jones were both subjects of prior inspector general investigations. A report from November last year found that Bevins violated the county charter when she bought a new residence outside of the eastern district she had represented since 2010. Bevins has said she was given erroneous advice from the council’s lawyer that she could relocate outside her district.

And in April, the inspector general found Jones broke county policy by including a link to donate to his campaign committee in at least 40 emails from his government email address. Jones said the link was mistakenly included and went unnoticed for months.

In written responses to some of her investigations, Rodgers, the county’s top administrator, has questioned Madigan’s authority to investigate certain matters.

Last year, The Baltimore Brew first reported draft legislation the Olszewski administration intended to bring forward to the council that would have created an inspector general oversight board composed of members appointed by the administration and the council chair, currently Jones, and included other reforms that the Association of Inspectors General wrote in an open letter, would “effectively gag and shackle” Madigan.

Olszewski never had the bill introduced. In October of last year, he established the Blue Ribbon Commission by executive order to make recommendations about how to reform the inspector general’s office. He said the bylaws regulating the corruption watchdog did not set up adequate guardrails, such as the inspector general’s access to government emails. This year, Olszewski funded three additional positions in Madigan’s office, bringing her staff to six.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board, which operates under the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, is considering a constituent’s complaint that asserts the commission — which is being supported with staffers from the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy — violated the Open Meetings Act. The complaint alleges the commission shut the public out of subcommittee deliberations and private conversations between the subcommittees and county officials, including Jones, Rodgers and another unnamed council member.

Baltimore Banner reporters Liz Bowie and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.