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City, Baltimore County IGs await reviews in new year

Isabel Mercedes Cumming at press conference
Mark Dennis/Office of Mayor Brandon Scott
Baltimore City Inspectors General Isabel Mercedes Cumming speaks at a 2020 press conference with Baltimore County IG Kelly Madigan, far left, on a joint report into water billing errors.

Baltimore City and County’s inspectors general will undergo new reviews in 2022, after a year of strained back-and-forths with elected officials.

In the city, IG Isabel Mercedes Cumming’s office is scheduled to receive a professional peer review by the Association of Inspectors General, which she requested after a panel filled with officials under her purview gave her a positive evaluation.

In the county, a study panel appointed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski is reviewing oversight for the inspector general. That panel came about following a months-long controversy that left the Olszewski administration with a public black eye.

Back in May, Kelly Madigan, the county’s IG, stepped into a lion’s den, otherwise known as the Baltimore County Council. Two council members, Democrats Julian Jones and Cathy Bevins tore into her.

Bevins peppered Madigan with questions, ranging from how she conducts her investigations to the cost of her business cards. Bevins said she’d heard complaints from people who have been questioned by Madigan.

“People from different parts of the county, different ages, different colors, different races, and they all told me the same thing that they felt very intimidated by you,” Bevins told Madigan.

It turned out that one of Bevins’ political allies had been questioned by Madigan on how he handled purchases when he ran Baltimore County’s Agricultural Center.

Council members called for an oversight board for the inspector general.

Fast forward to July and Olszewski proposed doing just that. But the legislation was dead in the water before it was even introduced in the council. Council members objected, saying the panel would have been packed with political appointees who would have too much control over the inspector general.

Madigan said it would strip her of her independence to root out fraud and corruption in county government.

“The core function of an inspector general is to be independent and have the ability to do their job,” Madigan said. “This bill eliminates both of those.”

So, Olszewski scrapped that idea. In October he appointed a study panel to review what should be done. Olszewski said Inspector General Madigan still has his full support.

“It’s one of the first actions I took as county executive was to create the inspector general office to root out any waste, fraud or abuse,” he said.

The study panel’s report is expected in July.

IG Cumming’s advisory board saga began after an investigation into State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Baltimore’s top prosecutor had requested that Cumming investigate her travel, after she was criticized for taking trips paid for by third parties, such as nonprofits.

The subsequent February report faulted Mosby for not seeking approval from the city’s spending board. An opinion from City Solicitor Jim Shea noted that city policies about third-party travel funding were unclear.

The Baltimore branch of the NAACP called the investigation a “tipping point” for their concerns about “what appears to be disparate and biased treatment of African American leaders” within the OIG.

In March, the Baltimore Sun broke the news that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI were investigating Mosby and her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby. Federal investigators have not publicly shared any updates or findings.

Mosby allies both local and national have rallied around her. Prominent attorney Ben Crump said the investigations into the state’s attorney represented pernicious racism toward Black women prosecutors.

“On behalf of people of color – Black people all over America – these sisters are fighting. Recognizing their sacrifice, we can no longer afford to sit back and allow sisters to be harassed,” he said at a news conference in Baltimore in November, the same day President Biden was in town for a CNN event. Crumb urged the Democrat to drop the federal charges against her.

Cumming has firmly denied the allegations of racially motivated investigations, saying her office simply investigates the tips it gets.

Over the summer, Mayor Brandon Scott announced that an advisory board would convene to issue a performance review of IG Cumming, which ultimately praised her, calling her hard-working and highly capable.

The panel is made up largely of city officials who are in Cumming’s investigative purview. She has maintained that presents major conflicts of interest, noting that all the board’s officials, or their offices, have been involved in investigations to some degree, either as a source or the subject of a probe.

“If you don't have a strong inspector general and they get a complaint and it involves someone on their advisory board, they may shy away from it,” she said in an interview earlier this month. “I never want citizens of Baltimore to ever be concerned that the inspector general is going to be in a compromised position.”

Scott toldMaryland Matters that he won’t try to change the board’s makeup, because Baltimore voters overwhelmingly approved its creation in 2018.

Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law and one of two non-city officials on Cumming’s current advisory board, recommended an amendment to that charter amendment to fill the board with third parties.

Cumming said that both she and IG Madigan of Baltimore County should have advisory boards, but ones that resemble Weich’s vision. She suggested that the city’s board could consist of professors, deans or experts from Baltimore’s many colleges and universities.

Cumming requested a professional peer review by the Association of Inspectors General, scheduled for next year.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2