In a highly unusual move, the Association of Inspectors General issued an open letter this afternoon to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and members of the County Council expressing “grave concerns” about a bill to restructure the county’s Inspector General’s Office.
“The proposed bill in its present form, should it become law, will deprive the Inspector General of the ability to fulfill its mission,” wrote Stephen B. Street, Jr., president of the nation’s leading corruption watchdog association.
“The end result,” he warned, “would be the mere appearance of oversight, which is much worse than no oversight at all.”
The 2,000-member organization, which represents federal, state and local inspectors general across the U.S., was reacting to a bill that would place Baltimore County IG Kelly Madigan under the control of a board of political appointees, who would have the right to disapprove, modify and curtail the scope of her investigations into waste, fraud and corruption in county government.
Scheduled to be introduced at tomorrow’s Council meeting by Chair Julian E. Jones Jr., the bill’s contents have still not been publicly disclosed.
On Friday, The Brew revealed a “final draft copy” of the bill, which the Olszewski administration later confirmed would be sent to the Council.
In a media release following The Brew’s story, Olszewski described the bill – a nearly complete rewrite of 2019 legislation that established the inspector general’s office – as a way to hold county government “to the highest standards of ethics and accountability.”
He asserted that the bill was drafted “in collaboration with the Inspector General” – a statement that Madigan flatly rejected as false. Madigan said she first learned of the bill in a recent email and attended meetings in which the bill’s contents were described.
She said she identified several objectionable parts of the legislation, but none of her qualms was acted upon in the draft.
Attacked by Jones and Bevins
Olszewski first floated the idea of placing the IG under an oversight board after a May budget hearing in which Jones and Middle River Councilwoman Cathy Bevins tore into Madigan for her critical report on the county’s Ag Center and unauthorized purchases by its former director, William “Chris” McCollum.
Jones said Madigan’s demeanor was “scaring” county employees, while Bevins accused the IG of misspending $59 on double-sided business cards.
Neither Bevins nor Jones disclosed their connections to McCollum, who has been Bevins’ campaign treasurer since 2014 and who also served as treasurer of the Baltimore County Victory Slate that helped underwrite Jones’ successful 4th District race in 2014.
Last month, The Brew disclosed that McCollum had funneled $20,000 to Olszewski’s campaign through transfers from the Bevins and Victory Slate committees as well as direct contributions.
Appointed to the county’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development in 2019, McCollum resigned from his $135,000-a-year post as deputy director last Friday, according to the county executive’s press office.
One part of the new bill calls on the county inspector general to be certified by the AIG, which presumably gives the AIG added heft to comment on the pending bill.
The association did so this afternoon in scathing terms, saying the bill violated the group’s “Green Book,” or established best practices, by placing the county IG under an oversight body “composed of elected officials and other politically appointed persons who do not possess the requisite knowledge, skills, training or expertise in the field of inspections.”
Such oversight will not provide “actual independence and objectivity,” but rather hand over “excessive authority and powers” to the oversight board.
Such powers will “effectively gag and shackle” the Inspector General from conducting investigations and “weaponize” the oversight board to “influence, intimidate or directly hinder audits, investigations and other actions that are not to the liking of a government or its administration.”
“We strongly recommend that the proposed bill be re-evaluated and that Baltimore County government proceed with caution on any such proposed legislation,” Street said in the open letter.
He said the non-partisan organization, based in New York, would be happy to assist the Council or the Olszewski administration in “navigating the complex issues” of setting up an effective inspector general’s office.
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