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Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. postpones plans for bill restricting inspector general office

Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan speaks about the joint report on water under the shared jurisdiction of the city and county as Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, left, and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., right, look on. Dec. 21, 2020. p4
Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan speaks about the joint report on water under the shared jurisdiction of the city and county as Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, left, and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., right, look on. Dec. 21, 2020. p4 (Amy Davis)

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s administration is postponing plans to introduce legislation curbing the powers of the county’s Office of the Inspector General after details of the draft proposal prompted backlash from groups that said it would hamstring the county’s corruption watchdog.

Olszewski is walking back legislation to convene a work group in the coming weeks to review the proposal, according to a news release. The bill was planned to be introduced during a County Council meeting Tuesday night.

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A county spokesman could not immediately say who will be included in the work group, but said members would be announced in the coming days.

The postponement comes a day after the Association of Inspectors General, a national consortium that sets the standards for how watchdog offices should function, decried the bill in an open letter to Olszewski.

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The proposal — which has been circulated to media outlets but not posted by county officials publicly — would “effectively gag and shackle” the county’s first inspector general, Kelly Madigan, wrote Association of Inspectors General President Stephen B. Street Jr.

“In just a few years we have taken unprecedented steps forward, including creating and expanding the County’s first-ever Inspector General,” county spokesman Sean Naron said in a statement.

“We remain committed to filling gaps in the current law to provide appropriate accountability measures, but we want to ensure all concerns are thoughtfully considered,” Naron said.

The inspector general’s office was created in 2019, with Olszewski choosing Madigan as the first to serve in the post for a five-year term beginning January 2020. Some council members have criticized Madigan for the way she conducts investigations. During a May council meeting, she was harangued by one member for how much she spent on her business cards.

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Olszewski was seeking to create a seven-member oversight board, comprised of members of his administration, County Council designees and two citizens with relevant experience picked by the county executive and County Council chairman.

Madigan would have to draft a work plan and notify the oversight board of the plan before investigation. Naron has said an oversight board would not be able to prevent or stop an inspector general investigation.

Madigan opposed the draft because she said it undermines her office’s independence. The bill, as written, would restrict her access to government records and remove her ability to issue judicially-enforceable subpoenas.

Madigan, a former state prosecutor, has said she is supportive of an oversight panel that is autonomous from local officials. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

“I did not have a single constituent tell me they supported this legislation — and that matters,” Republican Councilman David Marks said after Olszewski announced it was being pulled Tuesday.

“Having a work group to thoroughly review legislation is always a good idea and I’m glad the County Executive has reconsidered,” Marks added.

A vote on the bill was expected Aug. 2. It’s unclear if the work group will be given a deadline to complete its review of the draft legislation.

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