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IG Report: Former Baltimore County official illegally saved developer millions

 Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan
Isaac Smay
Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan. Credit: Baltimore County

Baltimore County’s former director of permits, approvals and inspections violated the county code by waiving millions of dollars in securities and fees for the developer of the Owings Mills Metro Centre, according to the county’s inspector general.

In a report released Thursday, Inspector General Kelly Madigan said Arnold Jablon, the former director, had no authority to waive the fees and laid out a cozy relationship with the developer.

Madigan said the deal with the developer was quietly put in place in September of 2011, during the administration of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, years after the initial contract for the development was signed.

“This was done in an email and in an internal memo,” Madigan said.

Jablon directed that the securities and fees owed the county by the developer, David S. Brown Enterprises, not be collected. Jablon also instructed that a security paid in 2006 be returned to the developer. A security is what a developer pays to assure a project will be completed. Fees can be for things such as building permits and inspections.

Madigan said that according to the county code, securities cannot be waived and Jablon did not have the authority to waive the fees.

“And that waiver resulted in millions of dollars that were waived with the project.”

The County Administrative Officer at the time, Fred Homan, who did have fee waiver authority, told Madigan through his attorney that he knew nothing about the waiver.

Both Homan and Jablon refused Madigan’s request to be interviewed. They also did not return calls to WYPR. Matt Schoenfeld, the general counsel for David S. Brown Enterprises, declined to comment for this story.

Madigan got a hold of emails between the developer and Jablon indicating personal favors were done, including charging Jablon only face value for hard-to-get priority seats to several NCAA Big Ten Conference basketball tournaments.

Madigan said, “The emails seem to state that he paid for the tickets, but it was the access to the tickets and it was the benefits that came along with the tickets.”

Former State Senator Jim Brochin campaigned against the friendly relationship between developers and county officials during his unsuccessful run for county executive in 2018. He said Madigan’s investigation doesn’t surprise him.

“Baltimore County is a pay to play county and this is just scratching the surface,” Brochin said.

The Owings Mills Metro Centre project began in 2005. The developer’s website describes it as a transit-oriented development. It’s next to I-795 and has a metro station. It has apartments, businesses, offices and a recently opened Marriott hotel.

Democratic Council Chairman Julian Jones said the development is a tremendous asset to his district.

“There’s not a day that you can go there that the parking lots are not full and people are not walking up and down the metro centre,” Jones said.

In a written response to Madigan’s report, Baltimore County’s current Administrative Officer, Stacy Rodgers, pointed out that the deal between Jablon and David S. Brown Enterprises was put in place years before County Executive Johnny Olszewski took office in 2018.

Rodgers writes that any future securities will have to be paid because that is required by the county code but that the county continues to allow the fee waiver because it is its practice to honor agreements made by previous administrations. Madigan takes issue with that.

“What I would say in response to that is that that former director didn’t have the authority to make that negotiation.”

Madigan said honoring the waiver for fees continues to cost the county money.

“Because that project is ongoing,” Madigan said. “And so, the effects of that waiver have kind of continued to be absorbed by Baltimore County government.”

Signs of that ongoing development came on Tuesday when the Baltimore County Council was supposed to vote on a proposal from Chairman Jones to give the developer a property tax break to build high rise apartments at metro centre.

Jones withdrew the legislation. He said that had nothing to do with Madigan’s report, which came out two days later.

“It had to do with some other issues that are taking place with that entire transaction that were just not done yet,” Jones said.

Sean Naron, Olszewski’s press secretary said the bill would have provided a massive tax break to the developer “and the county executive made it clear to council members that we would have vetoed the bill if passed.”

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