Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is pushing legislation to establish an oversight panel to monitor Inspector General Kelly Madigan’s office and to amend the law to restrict her access to protected records after multiple County Council members derided her as overly-aggressive and “a bully.”
Under the proposal, a seven-member board would be charged with appointing an Inspector General and would be empowered to remove them “only for cause” regardless of council or executive input. The board would also have to sign off on the office’s proposed budget and could revise it, according to the bill.
Madigan — who Olszewski appointed to the position he created just 17 months ago to root out government fraud, waste and abuse — would be compelled to notify the board of an investigation prior to its start and develop “a written work plan that clearly defines the purpose and scope of the investigation, the areas and potential issues to be addressed, the methodologies to be used, and the manner in which the work will be conducted,” according to the bill shared with The Baltimore Sun, which has not been posted publicly.
The panel would include members of Olszewski’s administration: the county attorney would serve as chair and members would include the county administrative officer, budget director, council chair, council secretary and two residents approved by the County Executive and council chair, and who have backgrounds in law, public policy or public administration.
The board would meet at least once annually. County spokesman Sean Naron said the oversight board would not need to approve investigations by the county’s watchdog office. But the board has the ability to remove Madigan or change her budget with the approval of four members, according to a news release.
Madigan said the proposal “strips the independence of the Inspector General as well as their access to the documents with which to do their job.”
Madigan previously said she would welcome the creation of an independent oversight panel — the board being proposed isn’t that, she said.
When presented with a draft of the bill, Madigan said she proposed alternative members to the board, like representatives of the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Public Defender or the Baltimore County Bar Association.
Amendments to the county statute would hamstring Madigan’s ability to access records that are “protected, confidential or privileged” under state or federal law; under the current law, her office is meant to have “full and unrestricted access” to all government records.
No records of the inspector’s office would be available to the public, under one of the proposed amendments.
Under the current statute, Naron said, there is “no protection for confidential or privileged information,” such as attorney-client privilege or retirement records, but it’s unclear which other records would be shielded from Madigan’s purview.
The former state prosecutor would not be allowed to identify the subject of an investigation unless the subject gives written consent. The bill also rescinds Madigan’s ability to issue judicially-enforced subpoenas.
“Without independent watchdogs such as Madigan, “profligate spending and corrupt dealings will replace sound, transparent governance,” said David Williams, president of the nonprofit spending watchdog group Taxpayers Protection Alliance, in a statement opposing the bill.
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“It’s hard to conclude that this anything other than a brazen move for political retaliation,” Williams said in a release after a draft proposal was first reported by The Baltimore Brew.
In May, Olszewski said he would propose the creation of an oversight board in response to council members’ upbraiding of Madigan during budget talks. She was chided by three Democratic council members for the way she conducts investigations, which council chair Julian Jones told her “scares people.”
The reprimand was spurred in part by Madigan’s investigation into waste at the Baltimore County Agriculture Center. Her investigation found inappropriate spending of county funds by Chris McCollum, a longtime county employee who directed the Ag Center at the time.
McCollum, who has served as the campaign treasurer for councilwoman Cathy Bevins, resigned from his position as deputy director of Department of Economic Development Friday. Bevins defended McCollum during budget talks.
At least one council member, Izzy Patoka, has signaled his opposition to provisions of the bill.
“If certain folks don’t like the results of an investigation, I don’t think that means we should reconstruct the inspector general’s office in a way that would give those folks more desirable results,” Patoka, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter.
The legislation will be introduced during the County Council’s meeting July 6. A vote is expected August 2.