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Olszewski Backs Off Controversial Inspector General Oversight Board Legislation

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John Lee
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Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. Credit: John Lee

Following a firestorm of criticism, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski scuttled plans Tuesday to introduce legislation that would have created an oversight board for the inspector general. The legislation was going to be introduced to the county council Tuesday night.

Olszewski spokesman Sean Naron said a work group will now be put together to study how to give the inspector oversight.

In a statement, Naron said, “We remain committed to filling gaps in the current law to provide appropriate accountability measures, but we want to ensure all concerns are thoughtfully considered.”

That original bill was in deep political trouble.

Before Olszewski announced he would hold off on introducing it, four of the seven county council members told WYPR they opposed it. They didn’t like that the oversight board would have been made up of political appointees. Democratic Councilman Izzy Patoka also said that board would have too much control over the inspector general’s investigations. He said his constituents oppose it.

“Every single comment has been against this proposed legislation as written,” Patoka said.

The proposed oversight board would have been made up of three members of the Olszewski administration, two members from the legislative branch, and two others who would be appointed jointly by the county executive and the county council chairman.

“I don’t believe the oversight board should include elected officials or senior staff of the county executive,” Patoka said.

A letter to the county council from the Association of Inspectors General agrees.

The letter, dated July 5, objected to an oversight board comprised of elected officials and other politically appointed persons “who do not possess the requisite knowledge, skills, training or experience in the field of inspections and oversight does not provide actual independence and objectivity from the governmental body.”

The letter says the power given to the oversight board would “effectively gag and shackle the Inspector General from conducting independent investigations for the ultimate benefit of the citizens of Baltimore County.”

The original legislation would have required Inspector General Kelly Madigan to notify the oversight board of the subject of a complaint and the purpose and scope of the investigation.

In addition to Patoka, the three Republicans on the county council said they opposed the initial legislation as well.

Republican David Marks said the letter from the Association of Inspectors General raises significant concerns.

“I’ve communicated my concerns to the administration, and I’d like them addressed before committing to support this bill,” Marks said.

In an interview Friday, Republican Councilman Todd Crandell said the makeup of the proposed oversight board is like “the fox guarding the henhouse.”

Crandell said, “The bill sets up a situation where you have politicians and their appointees essentially telling an inspector general what they may investigate or not investigate.”

In a text, a spokesman for Republican Wade Kach said the councilman opposed the legislation as well.

Olszewski is a Democrat and his party holds a four-three majority on the county council. But Patoka’s opposition to the legislation put it in jeopardy.

In an interview before Olszewski pulled the bill from introduction, Democrat Cathy Bevins said she supported the legislation. She said Madigan needs an oversight board.

“Everyone answers to someone,” Bevins said. “You have to answer to someone for some actions or something that you do.”

Bevins said the fact that the oversight board would have been political appointees should not be an issue. She said the county executive and the county council make appointments to various commissions, and this one should be no different.

“I certainly don’t influence any of those boards,” Bevins said.

At a hearing in May, Bevins grilled Madigan on her conduct in office. Bevins said the inspector general has been a hostile interrogator of county employees. Madigan disagrees with that assessment.

Bevins said she supports having a county inspector general.

“I have a problem with the person sitting in the office, and that is a totally different thing,” Bevins said.

Bevins’ former campaign treasurer was the subject of a recent investigation by Madigan.

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