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Dust up between inspector general, Olszewski administration, disclosed

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

Emails between Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s chief of staff and county Inspector General Kelly Madigan reveal a behind the scenes dispute that was going on last spring over Madigan’s authority.

How much autonomy the county’s inspector general should have remains a sore spot.

The inspector general’s office was created three years ago to root out waste, fraud and abuse in county government. The law that establishes the office states the inspector general has unrestricted access to all county records.

But emails between Madigan and Patrick Murray, Olszewski’s chief of staff WYPR obtained through Maryland’s Public Information Act, suggest there were some restrictions.

In an email dated April 8, 2021, Murray instructed Madigan she must ask the administration for records in writing. She must explain why she needs the information and “how the request is necessary and related to the work of the Office of Inspector General.”

In an email four days later, Madigan pushed back, writing “the policy you have proposed would not be consistent with the history, independence and purpose of an inspector general’s office.” Four months later, Madigan went further, writing in an email that she would no longer abide by Murray’s order because there is no legal requirement to do so.

Both Murray and Madigan declined to be interviewed for this story.

Baltimore City Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming said she is not required to put her records requests in writing like that.

“Oh God, no,” Cumming said.To ask somebody to have it approved like that would create an independence issue with the office of the inspector general.”

Cumming said that could allow someone to turn the inspector general’s office into a weapon.

“In that they can make a false complaint about somebody. We request documents. And then it would be known on the outside what we’re requesting.”

These emails reveal the earliest known attempt to restrict Madigan. They came one month after she issued a report questioning the spending by the head of the county’s agricultural center who was at the same time Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins’s campaign treasurer.

In a statement to WYPR, county communications director Dori Henry wrote that that report had nothing to do with the restrictions that were placed on Madigan. She said Madigan’s requests for documents were causing internal confusion because she would go to different people, sometimes to mid-level employees, other times department heads.

Then at a May budget hearing, Madigan was questioned by Bevin over why she investigated the purchases at the ag center.

“And if that person’s supervisor never had a problem with that purchase, you shouldn’t,” Bevins said. “You’re not that person’s supervisor.”

Retired attorney Thomas Glancy, who is serving on a commission tasked by Olszewski to review the inspector general’s office, said that hearing led him to believe Madigan’s independence is under assault.

Glancy asked, “What’s the point of having an inspector general if they don’t have some level of independence? They can’t do their job effectively.”

In July, Olszewski, a Democrat, said the watchdog needed a watchdog. He proposed legislation to create a board packed with political appointees to oversee the inspector general. He dropped that idea after a furious backlash over the political makeup of that board.

Instead, in October he appointed a panel of experts, including Glancy to study the inspector general’s office. That panel has not yet met. Communications Director Henry said they are in the process of hiring a consultant outside county government to help the commission with its work.

Republican councilman David Marks welcomes the commission’s review of the inspector general’s office.

“I think this position has done a lot to open up government,” Marks said. “I would welcome any sort of review to make it more accountable and more effective.”

Fellow Republican Councilman Todd Crandell said he sees nothing wrong with how the inspector general’s office is operating now.

Crandell said, “I kind of look at it, well, if it’s not broken, what are we trying to fix here. I will be on the lookout for a potential overstep here.”

Olszewski has consistently said that Madigan has his full support. He created the position during his first months in office, he said, to make county government more transparent.

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