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While Under Fire, Baltimore County Inspector General Touts Accomplishments In Annual Report

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Baltimore County
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Credit: Baltimore County Inspector General

In her annual report released Monday, Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan said her department remains underfunded and at risk of losing its independence.

Despite those challenges. Madigan said in the past year her office has been able to conduct more than one dozen investigations, increase the number of county employees filing financial disclosure forms from around 50 to more than 300, and modernize the county’s ethics training.

Madigan, who became the county’s first inspector general in January 2020, said in an interview with WYPR that it was difficult to launch the office during COVID-19.

“(It) certainly impacted the ability to do outreach and some of our investigations,” Madigan said.

Madigan’s office includes herself and an investigator, as well as an unpaid intern. The Baltimore County Council in May approved a third paid position so Madigan soon will have an administrative assistant.

Baltimore City’s Inspector General has a staff of 17.

“I would predict that the number of complaints we receive is going to continue to grow and the number of cases or investigations that we open each and every year is going to continue to grow,” Madigan said.

In her report, which was sent last week to County Executive Johnny Olszewski and the County Council, Madigan broke down the cost of her office to the taxpayer. Her annual budget is $291,100 which she said works out to 35 cents for each county resident.

“I think it shows that with three dimes and a nickel, look at what you get back,” Madigan said in the interview.

Madigan’s report cites several of her investigations that found waste in county government. They include an investigation with Baltimore City into the water billing system the report says found “millions of dollars in lost revenues and consulting fees.”

It also cites the investigation into the Baltimore County Agricultural Center, which found spending of “$1.1 million by the county to acquire commercial grade farming equipment and to build a state-of-the-art greenhouse, none of which was put to significant use.”

The Ag. Center investigation also turned up “numerous infractions of the county’s purchasing card policies by two management-level employees.”

It was that investigation in particular that drew the ire of Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins when Madigan appeared before the County Council for a budget hearing in May.

Bevins’ campaign treasurer at the time, Chris McCollum, was cited in that investigation. He was the Ag. Center’s director from 2010-2019.

Bevins and Democratic County Chairman Julian Jones peppered Madigan at that hearing with questions about how she conducts her investigations. Council members raised the possibility of an oversight board for Madigan.

Olszewski, who asked the council to create the inspector general position in 2019, planned to submit legislation to the council July 6 to create such a board. He backed off doing that when the proposed makeup of the oversight board received fierce criticism from both council members and the Association of Inspectors General. It would have been a seven-member panel made up of political appointees.

Madigan and others said the oversight board as proposed would have stripped her of her independence. For instance, it would have been possible that a member of that board could have been the subject of a Madigan investigation.

Olszewski plans to appoint a work group to consider changes to the inspector general’s office, including who should serve on an oversight board.

Olszewski spokesman Sean Naron said in a July 6 statement, “Our administration is proud to be the most open, accessible, and transparent in Baltimore County’s history. In just a few years we have taken unprecedented steps forward, including creating and expanding the county’s first-ever Inspector General.”

Madigan said she is grateful the original legislation was scuttled.

She said the work group needs to consider not only who will be on the oversight board, but what will be its purpose.

“If the purpose of the oversight board is to do anything other than kind of check a box, I think it would be important to have members of that board that would have investigative experience, so if that they’re going to give input into what proper procedures are, that they have a basis to be doing that,” Madigan said.

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