Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan’s small staff works from a windowless basement office beneath the historic Towson courthouse, fielding complaints, conducting interviews and writing investigative reports.
Since the office launched in 2020, its work has brought scrutiny to various corners of county government — including its highest levels. Now the watchdog agency is set to expand, with increased county funds to double the staff from three to six people.
“I’m really excited,” Madigan said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun this summer. “It’s going to be growth. It’s necessary growth.”
Her office’s workload has swelled, with the number of annual complaints nearly doubling over the past year, to 155. She hopes the increased number of personnel will enable the office to address complaints more efficiently and quickly.
The expansion also comes amid continuing debate in county government over the office, whose mission is to identify fraud, abuse and illegal acts.
Madigan’s investigations have at times set off clashes with county officials, including County Council members and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s administration. A “blue-ribbon commission” assembled by the county executive started meeting in June and is examining laws governing the office and whether any should be changed.
Political tension can be challenging but is a natural part of the job, Madigan said, because the role requires pointing out others’ errors and shortcomings — which “might not necessarily be popular or fun.”
“I once had a supervisor that told me if nobody’s complaining about you, you’re not doing your job,” the former prosecutor said.
Madigan said she is proud of positive change the office has brought about in county government. For instance, after she published a report that more than 800 county employees didn’t receive cost-of-living raises because of an antiquated compensation system, the Olszewski administration said the workers would get back pay.
Madigan’s staff now consists of an administrative assistant and a deputy inspector general, who is a former FBI investigator. She plans to hire two investigators and an attorney.
To account for the new positions, the office was allocated a budget of roughly $603,000 for the current fiscal year, up from about $354,000 over the last.
In the coming year, Madigan also wants to increase awareness of the office and put into place an internal case management system.
The office also staffs the county ethics commission. Its duties in that arena include responding to ethics questions from county employees, investigating ethics complaints and managing disclosure reports filed by county lobbyists.
Madigan, 44, grew up in California. She was an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore for 11 years, and then worked about four years for the Office of the State Prosecutor, which handles cases of public corruption.
Olszewski, a Democrat elected in 2018, appointed Madigan in 2019 to the newly created county post, then called the Office of Ethics and Accountability.
Inspectors general for local governments are not common in Maryland.
Nationally, though, there has been increasing interest in establishing them over the past few years, driven by government scandals and demand for transparency, said Greg Hill, executive director of the Association of Inspectors General.
Last year, the national association blasted a proposal by Olszewski to create an oversight board and limit the powers of the county’s watchdog office, saying it would “effectively gag and shackle” the inspector general. Olszewski pulled back the proposal after a backlash.
The vast majority of local IG offices do not have oversight boards, Hill said.
Independence “is a pillar of the inspector general community,” said Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming.
“Politics have to stay out of what we do,” the city inspector general said. “We’re trying to get to the truth … regardless of politics.”
Cumming’s office has 18 staff members and a budget of more than $2.4 million. She said “it’s incredible how much [Madigan] has achieved” with a fraction of the resources.
City voters in November will weigh a proposed charter amendment that would change the composition of the board that oversees the inspector general there, removing elected officials from the panel.
In the county, the question of whether there should be formal oversight of the IG is among those being considered by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability.
Chaired by William E. Johnson Jr., a former IG for the state Department of Human Resources, the panel is also exploring issues such as whether the office has enough resources and whether the county ethics commission should be staffed separately. Its meetings are being held online; the next is set for Tuesday evening.
So far, Madigan’s office has brought needed scrutiny to county government, said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.
“I think it has forced all of us in county government to think carefully about the actions that we might initiate, and that’s a good thing,” Marks said.
Other council members have questioned Madigan’s approach. Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said her tactics have scared some county employees, driving them to “literally cry.” He said he thinks she could be “kinder and gentler.”
Jones himself was the subject of an investigation in which Madigan found that he violated county policy when some of his official emails to constituents included a “donate” button for his political campaign. The messages were sent using a third-party email marketing service and transmitted through a private computer server, but used one of Jones’ county email addresses in the “from” line.
“There have been a number of incidents where I think she’s made molehills into mountains,” Jones said. “And in some cases, I’m just not sure how that makes Baltimore County better.”
Madigan defended her office’s treatment of county employees.
“We treat each and every employee respectfully,” she said, adding that county workers can bring an attorney to interviews. “Sometimes we have to have tense interviews. Sometimes we have to ask tough questions. That’s part of the job.”
The Morning Sun
In an interview, Olszewski said he feels issues surrounding the treatment of county workers during investigations are “a legitimate concern.” For instance, there are questions about who should bear the cost of legal representation for employees called in for interviews, he said.
“I want the office to succeed,” added Olszewski, who is seeking reelection this year. “We want to make sure that they can both have the autonomy and the ability to independently conduct investigations, but also do so in a way that is fair to employees.”
Despite last year’s attempt to rein in Madigan’s powers, Olszewski said he wants the office to thrive.
“There have been any number of examples where we’ve taken the reports, and we’ve made changes to make county government stronger and better and more streamlined,” he said.
But the county executive’s administration has at times questioned whether Madigan was acting within the scope of her duties. It also disputed Madigan’s findings, released in July, that his aides appeared to give developer David Cordish preferential treatment for a private tennis facility Cordish wanted to build next to his home. Madigan stood by the findings.
Councilman Izzy Patoka, a Pikesville Democrat who has supported increased funding for Madigan’s office, said he thinks conflict is to be expected.
“Baltimore County had been doing the same thing, the same way, for decades,” Patoka said. “So when you bring on a new agency, it’s a little unnatural for the culture of Baltimore County.”