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Baltimore County

No violation of Maryland’s transparency law by special panel evaluating inspector general, Baltimore County says

The commission tasked with evaluating Baltimore County’s top watchdog pushed back Monday against a county resident’s accusation that it had violated state transparency laws by conducting the bulk of its business in closed-door meetings.

Baltimore County Attorney James Benjamin, on behalf of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability, issued a response to David Plymyer’s Oct. 27 complaint to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board. Plymyer said the commission had violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act by using subcommittee hearings to interview members of the county council and government staff, and to draft policy recommendations for the office of Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan.

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“A subcommittee meeting would be considered a meeting of the parent public body if a quorum of the members of the parent body attends,” Benjamin wrote in a letter addressed to members of the Open Meetings Compliance Board. “That has not happened at any of the subcommittees’ meetings. ... Further, this Board has concluded that entities created informally, such as the Commission’s subcommittees, do not meet the test of a public body” because the members are appointed by the executive.

In addition, the commission is “utilizing the subcommittees as a means to efficiently collect and gather certain information to assist it,” Benjamin wrote.

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“Had the Commission come down on the side of openness and transparency — as it certainly should have — my complaint would not have been necessary at all,” Plymyer said via email in response to Benjamin’s statement.

Madigan, who was appointed to her position in 2019 by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., has frequently sparred with County Council members, who accused her of “intimidating” and “aggressive” investigative tactics at a budget hearing last year.

Subcommittee hearings are not open to the public, a key point of the complaint from Plymyer, a retired Anne Arundel County attorney who lives in Catonsville. He claimed the commission’s use of private subcommittee meetings constituted “evasive devices” to illegally circumvent state law requiring them to make their meetings public.

Two subcommittees tasked with making recommendations concerning the inspector general’s operations, process, procedure, organizational structure and oversight have been doing the “meat” of the work since the commission began meeting in June, according to William Johnson Jr., the commission chairman and the former inspector general for the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

Those two subcommittees have since spoken to some 12 County employees, including one unnamed county councilperson and Council Chairman Julian Jones, who asked to be interviewed about their experiences with Madigan’s office, Johnson said during an Oct. 20 Commission meeting, which Plymyer noted in his complaint.

“The secrecy of the Commission, all of whose members were appointed by the County Executive, has done nothing to alleviate concerns that it is predisposed to agree with the County Executive that the Office of Inspector General’s powers should be reduced, and its independence curtailed,” Plymyer wrote in his complaint, which The Baltimore Sun obtained through a records request.

“It appears that the subcommittees are allowing a self-selected sample of employees to testify in private about their experiences with the IG’s office.”

Olszewski established the eight-member commission in October 2021 to offer policy recommendations to the inspector general and review county ethics laws, though it does not issue performance reviews for Madigan.

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He scrapped an earlier proposed bill to overhaul Madigan’s office, which the Association of Inspectors General said would have effectively “gagged and shackled” the Inspector General, and instead established the Blue Ribbon Commission.

Madigan’s office issued a report this month stating that the County had improperly paid $70,000 to repave a residential alley in Towson at the behest of a local property owner. County officials overrode objections from officials at the Department of Public Works and Transportation and directed an on-call contractor to perform the work, according to Madigan’s report.

The Blue Ribbon Commission plans a public remote meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to take public comment for the first time and to discuss the fact-finding process, the “development of potential recommendations” and the “ethical climate in Baltimore County,” according to a copy of the meeting agenda.


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