Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced Thursday that he is nominating Kelly Madigan, a career prosecutor, for the job of rooting out corruption, fraud and abuse in county government.
Madigan will be the first leader of the county’s newly created office of ethics and accountability.
Madigan will be creating her office from scratch. For starters, it will be just her and another person, perhaps an assistant or an investigator.
“It’s a very small staff,” Madigan said. “I’m kind of an army of one.”
Compare that to Baltimore City’s Inspector General’s Office, which has a staff of 13.
The office has a budget of $165,000 for the current fiscal year.
Madigan said Olszewski has promised her the office can grow. To do that, she will need to demonstrate that she is saving the county money by digging up waste and abuse in the government. To accomplish that, she will need whistleblowers.
“I’d like to have an ability for people to feel that they can truly make an anonymous complaint without fear of retaliation,” Madigan said.
So once she starts the job early next year, Madigan will be spreading the word on how people can file complaints anonymously, like by using an 800 number or going through the office’s web site. She expects those complaints to vary.
“They could be an anonymous complaint about maybe an overtime misuse or somebody not showing up to the job and being paid,” Madigan said. “It could be a specific complaint from an individual. It could be a specific complaint from a department head.”
The complaints can come from inside or outside the government.
Madigan currently is the Deputy State Prosecutor for the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor. That office investigates corruption and misconduct of public officials. Before that, she was a prosecutor in Baltimore City.
“I think with my background in law enforcement, my background in prosecution, my background in investigations, I bring all of that to the table,” Madigan said.
Earlier this year she applied for, but did not get the top job in the state prosecutor’s office. That went to Charlton Howard III, who was sworn in last month.
The county’s executive director for ethics and accountability is the final major position Olszewski needed to fill in his administration. He started the second year of his four year term last week. Olszewski said it was critical to take the time to find the right person.
Olszewski said in the past, county officials weren’t that interested in being transparent.
“Residents deserve better and it’s exactly why we’ve made ethics reform a centerpiece of our administration,” Olszewski said.
In March, he went before the county council and asked it to create the new position.
Olszewski told the council, “This office was intentionally meant to be independent from both the county executive and the county council, provided with necessary autonomy to effectively root out problems.”
To that end, Madigan can only be fired for cause, and with a super majority of five out of seven votes on the county council. The ethics and accountability office will be independent of both the county executive and the county council.
Madigan also will have subpoena power so she can get documents and other evidence from any county government agency.
“If the agency refuses to comply with my request, then I would issue a subpoena which would be enforced in court,” Madigan said.
However, Madigan will not have oversight over the school system, which makes up about half the county’s budget. It has its own ethics review panel. And ironically, the school system is where the county has had its most recent public display of government corruption. Dallas Dance was convicted last year of perjury and jailed for lying about outside income he received while school superintendent. And by the way, it was the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor that investigated Dance. Madigan was there at the time.
“I was involved in the case,” Madigan said. “But I was not the lead prosecutor on the case.”
The county council will need to approve Madigan’s nomination to a five year term. That’s expected to happen in January.