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Probe Finds Recreation Councils In Debt To Baltimore County

Credit: Baltimore County

An investigation by Baltimore County’ inspector general has found that the county is not properly collecting money it is owed from independent recreation councils.

Inspector General Kelly Madigan said when she launched her investigation in March, the debt to the county was more than $420,000.

The rec. councils are supposed to reimburse the county for the salaries it pays its employees, but Madigan said the arrangement is flawed because it’s a handshake agreement.

“There’s no legal documents to enforce these monies owed,” Madigan said. “There’s no contract that exists.”

In a written response to Madigan, County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers said they are aware of the longstanding issue and that agreements are being drawn up with the rec. councils. Since Madigan launched her investigation, the county and the rec. councils have reduced the debt by two thirds, to $139,000.

“This reduction was the result of (the Recreation) Department staff’s diligent work with the councils to reduce the outstanding debt,” Rodgers wrote to Madigan.

The independent recreation councils provide sports and activities throughout Baltimore County.

In an interview, Madigan used as an example a recreation council that wants to hire a chess instructor. It decides how much it’s going to pay the instructor, who then becomes a county employee. The council keeps track of the hours and submits that to the county for the instructor to be paid. Then the council is supposed to reimburse the county for that employee’s salary and benefits.

“I think that the program worked for a while, but I think as early as 2010, there began to be some problems with the recreation councils owing Baltimore County monies,” Madigan said.

According to Madigan’s report, most recreation councils directly paid independent contractors until about 2005. After that the people providing services for the rec. councils under what is called the Group Leadership Program began transitioning into becoming county employees. In any given month, this can be several hundred people.

In her report, Madigan said these employees must undergo background checks, but they skip other requirements that county employees must meet.

“The county plays no role in vetting their physical or professional qualifications, nor does the county monitor their performance after they have been hired,” Madigan wrote. “These employees also do not have to go through the county’s mandatory drug screening process.”

In her response, County Administrative Officer Rodgers said the county and the rec. councils are developing a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding.

“We anticipate discussion with the councils in October 2021,” Rodgers wrote.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2