Some Baltimore County Council members want to create a board to oversee the Office of the Inspector General after criticizing the county’s corruption watchdog for her “intimidating” investigative tactics.
“Maybe it’s your demeanor, maybe it’s your procedure,” Council Chair Julian Jones told county Inspector General Kelly Madigan during a budget hearing Wednesday. “It scares people.”
Jones and council members Cathy Bevins and Tom Quirk, all Democrats, hammered Madigan over a range of concerns from the higher cost of her business cards compared to other employees to the manner in which she conducts investigations and her access to government employees’ emails.
The way Madigan publishes her findings, Bevins said, brings nothing “to the county except a black eye.”
Madigan, a former state prosecutor, now heads the fledgling Inspector General’s Office created by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and approved by the council in mid-2019 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse within county government.
The office is meant to function independently of the county executive and county council and have unrestricted access to records and information to fully investigate claims of misconduct. Madigan also oversees financial disclosure filings as head of the county’s ethics commission.
But Quirk questioned Madigan’s “unfettered” access to county records such as government emails, which can be accessed by anyone in the general public through a Public Information Act request.
To conduct investigations, Madigan explained, she provides keywords and a timeframe to the Information Technology department to pull the requested emails.
Madigan leads her office with just one other employee. She is requesting a third position in fiscal 2022.
Despite Wednesday’s criticism, council members did not make any cuts in budgets proposed by agencies, including Madigan’s proposed budget of $354,000. The county office has far fewer resources than many other IGs — Baltimore City’s inspector general, for example, is funded at $1.8 million and has 15 staffers. Montgomery County’s watchdog also costs $1.8 million and has a staff of 13.
Jones told Madigan that “it appears as though the people being targeted are department heads with African American women,” and that employees are “scared to death, because they feel like you’re going to take a molehill and make it a mountain.”
She opposed Jones’ characterization that her office, which investigates submitted complaints, targets Black women.
“I don’t believe that’s an issue, but now I’m aware of it,” Madigan said.
“My agency is reactive not proactive,” she added in an interview.
The former prosecutor has helped unearth millions of dollars in waste related to the water system shared by the city and county, and earlier this year found the county squandered $1 million on a program at the Center for Maryland Agriculture in Cockeysville that was meant to provide food to those in need.
Bevins in particular blasted Madigan over a recent report that found that between 2013 and 2020, county procurement cards were used to make $36,700 of unauthorized purchases, which Madigan found were reported to the county in a way that masked the expenses exceeded procurement limits.
“If that person’s supervisor never had a problem with that purchase, you shouldn’t,” Bevins told her.
Among the subjects of Madigan’s investigation was Chris McCollum, who oversaw the Cockeysville Ag Center between 2010 and 2019, and is now deputy director of the county’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development.
McCollum, who Bevins describes as a friend, has served as her campaign treasurer. Bevins said Thursday that McCollum resigned earlier this year for reasons unrelated to Madigan’s investigation.
In an interview, Bevins justified her questioning of Madigan over an investigation that involved her friend and campaign volunteer, saying “I would stand up and fight for anybody that this was happening to.”
Bevins may have taken it “more personal” since the investigation targeted McCollum, but “I’m not gonna let any Baltimore County employee be treated like this again,” she said. “She is a bully.”
Bevins said McCollum wasn’t questioned by Madigan during her investigation, which Madigan refutes.
“Just because you make a report does not mean that that report is true,” Bevins told Madigan during the hearing. “You don’t know how Baltimore County government works. … You’re new.”
The Inspector General’s Office forwards reports to the county administrator for review before findings are published, Madigan noted.
Bevins and Jones said they had received complaints from county employees about the treatment they received when questioned by Madigan’s office, but there is no higher authority to review such complaints.
Bevins said the council “made a mistake” when it approved the creation of Madigan’s office in July 2019 without creating an oversight board.
Madigan said she would “absolutely, affirmatively” welcome the creation of an independent oversight board.
“As an inspector general you don’t really get an opportunity to defend your work,” she said. She’s prohibited now from disclosing many details of her investigation under whistleblower protections and confidentiality policies.
County spokesman Sean Naron in a statement said the council “identified clear gaps in the existing law and we are ready to work in partnership with them to address the issues raised.”
Republican councilman Todd Crandell said during the meeting he was “puzzled by this line of questioning” directed at Madigan.
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“The people want accountability and we have an office to do that,” he said. “I think we should support that office.”