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Report: No watchdog for Baltimore County’s watchdog

A sign reading “Baltimore County Maryland” hangs on the wall inside the historic Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson, the center of county government.
Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner
A sign reading “Baltimore County Maryland” hangs on the wall inside the historic Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson, the center of county government.

After eight months of deliberation, The Baltimore County Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability recommended that Baltimore County’s Inspector General should not have an oversight board among other suggestions, essentially no watchdog for the county taxpayer’s watchdog on duty.

The Blue Ribbon Commission is composed of seven members, appointed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski. The commission’s final report released on Friday, consists of more than a dozen recommendations, the most notable of which is to not establish an oversight board.

The inspector general’s office was created three years ago to root out waste, fraud and abuse in county government. Kelly Madigan, the county’s first inspector general, has been under scrutiny. Council members at times have criticized the office’s autonomy and tactics.

An email exchange in 2021 between Inspector General Madigan and Patrick Murray, who at the time was Olszewski’s chief of staff, revealed an effort to restrict the inspector general’s authority.

But in its final report, the commission recommended no oversight board be created “in deference to the need to protect the independence and the decision-making of the Inspector General.”

The report also states that tensions between the inspector general’s office and officials stem from county employees now having oversight.

Olszewski said Friday that he had received the report but had not yet had a chance to read it. Olszewski said his administration will review the recommendations.

“It’s my intention that using some of the suggestions that will come from the commission that we will sustain it [the inspector general’s office] well beyond my administration in a way that is a best practice for the county,” Olszewski said.

The report recommends strengthening the inspector general’s subpoena power and that it have full access to all government records. It further recommends that the office be added to the county charter to further protect it from the whims of future administrations that might want to cut its budget.

Madigan said she is pleased with the commission’s recommendations.

“The commission recommended independence, direct and unrestricted access to records, confidential and independent investigations and no oversight or advisory boards,” Madigan said. “I think those are big wins for the office.”

Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan
Isaac Smay
Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan

Madigan has taken a lot of heat, particularly from former Councilwoman Cathy Bevins and County Council Chairman Julian Jones.

Jones has been the subject of two Madigan investigations. One involved him using the county’s electronic communications policy when he put a donate button on an email that used a county email address. The other provided details of how Jones intervened to help a Towson businessman get an alley repaved on the county’s dime.

Jones criticized Madigan’s investigations as going too far.

In 2021, the inspector general determined that Councilwoman Bevins violated the county charter when she moved out of her council district. Bevins decided not to run for another term last year.

Olszewski has said he supports Madigan. He created the position and last year, he doubled the size of her office to six employees.

“I’ve grown it every year since I’ve been county executive,” Olszewski said.

Last year, Olszewski created The Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability after he fumbled his initial effort to establish more control over the inspector general’s office. His proposal to establish an oversight board for the inspector general packed with political appointees was quickly withdrawn after being roundly criticized by council members and others.

He then announced the formation of the commission, which he said would be independent and outside county government.

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