Howard County might follow the lead of neighboring counties and establish an inspector general’s office for the first time.

Liz Walsh, the County Council’s vice chair, introduced two bills at Tuesday’s legislative session, clearing the way for public testimony.

The first bill would establish the office and create a group that would appoint an inspector general to identify and investigate possible fraud and illegal acts in county government, Walsh said. The group would monitor the office’s performance over time.

The second bill, a “companion” or “housekeeping” measure, would make necessary changes to existing codes governing pay scales or whistleblower complaints.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Walsh said she was surprised that Howard County did not already have an office of the inspector general, but after kicking around the idea for several years, she thought the timing was right.

She said an inspector general would benefit the county by fostering increased transparency and trust in county government.

“I think that’s the most important thing that we need to have in order to really do good by the people who live here. … What we’re trying to do is build trust in our government by demonstrating that we are using taxpayer funds in the best, most open and accountable way possible,” Walsh said.

Because an inspector general is appointed by community members and will be a county citizen, she said, the office should be independent from political influence.

“It seems like a win-win to me,” she said. “Bipartisan. Everyone loves it. Everyone I talked to is like, ‘Yes, please.’ People were mad at us for waiting as long as we did, but we wanted to get it really, really, really right, and we think we have, and now it’s go time.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The county does have an auditor, some of whose responsibilities would be assumed by the inspector general. But the auditor doesn’t have subpoena power. The auditor is appointed by and serves the County Council, almost acting as their own watchdog, which is different to what an inspector general would do.

She said she’s looked to inspector generals in neighboring governments, such as Baltimore and Baltimore County, and was inspired and impressed by their competence, as well as the things they continue to find.

View post on X

Isabel Cumming and Kelly Madigan, the inspectors general for Baltimore and Baltimore County, respectively, are expected to appear in support of Walsh’s bill at the first public hearing on July 15.

Cumming, who has been the city’s inspector general since 2018, said it’s surprising that Maryland does not have a state inspector general, and that it’s a good thing that other counties, such as Prince George’s, are establishing them.

“I think any area of government can use a little more accountability,” she said. “The pillars of the Office of the Inspector General are independence, accountability and transparency. With those three things together it helps government become better. That’s needed everywhere.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Walsh’s bills would face a public hearing in two weeks, with a possible vote on July 29. If signed by County Executive Calvin Ball, the bills would become effective 60 days later.

Walsh said that if all goes as planned, the office will be up and running before the next fiscal year.