A survey of Baltimore County employees found those who responded consider county government an ethical place to work, although they think there’s room for leaders to encourage more ethical behavior.
The ethical climate survey results were part of an initial report Friday from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability. It’s met for more than nine months to evaluate and develop recommendations for the office of the county’s top watchdog, Inspector General Kelly Madigan.
A final report with the recommendations is expected Feb. 16.
The commission sent the email survey to more than 7,600 county employees, commissioners and board members. About 19% responded July 11-16 to questions about reporting or being investigated for suspected ethical misconduct, fraud, waste or abuse, and whether they thought colleagues and supervisors generally acted in an ethical manner.
Of the 1,470 respondents who answered at least one question, 70.3% answered the final survey question about whether they had anything to add “with regard to the ethics climate, reporting ethical misconduct or waste, fraud or misuse of County resources, or participating in an investigation by the Baltimore County Auditor, Ethics Commission, or Office of Inspector General.”
An overwhelming majority, 86%, said they had never made a report or been investigated, while 6% said they had reported wrongdoing.
Some 7 in 10 respondents who in some way reported wrongdoing said their complaints were made public.
Respondents were divided over whether they experienced a hostile work environment after making a complaint, with 37% saying yes and 48% saying that didn’t happen to them.
The Baltimore County Police Department had more employees take part than any other county agency, with 308 staffers responding, followed by 191 members of the health department, 179 fire department employees and 125 workers in the Department of Public Works and Transportation.
The responses indicated a high level of respect for Madigan’s office, with 59% saying they expected it would take their concerns seriously, and 52% saying they expected their privacy to be honored and that the office would address factors that led them to complain. Fifty percent said they expected the Office of Inspector General to handle their reports fairly.
Forty-six percent of respondents said that the county should conduct more ethics training, reinforcement and education for employees and have “clearer policies, procedures and expectations,” while 38% said there should be more accountability.
Democratic County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. has sought to make transparency and accountability a linchpin of his administration, touting his creation of Madigan’s position as the county’s first inspector general in 2019.
But in 2021, he planned to introduce a bill to overhaul her office, only to scrap it amid community backlash and criticism from a national industry group that the legislation would hamper Madigan’s work. In its place, Olszewski proposed the creation of the commission.
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The County Council approved a $100,000 agreement in April to contract with the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, which staffs the commission.
“We’re proud of the actions we’ve taken and the progress we’ve made to cultivate a culture of transparent and open government in Baltimore County,” Olszewski said Friday in an emailed statement. “We’re thankful for the commission’s ongoing work and look forward to reviewing their recommendations and final report.”
Madigan declined to comment until she had read the report thoroughly.
County Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said he was “encouraged” by the survey result that 88% of respondents said they had not been involved in investigations of suspected ethical misconduct.
Councilman Izzy Patoka, a Democrat from Pikesville who represents the 2nd District, said the ethics survey was a “starting point” for the county.
“It was a good baseline for the Blue Ribbon Commission to complete the final month of work before them,” he said, though there’s “still a significant amount of work to be done” drafting the final recommendations for Madigan’s office.
“That’s what I’m anxious to see,” Patoka said.