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Lia Russell

The Baltimore Sun

April 10, 2024

An official being considered for Baltimore County’s highest appointed position helped police investigate a former employee who accused her and county executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. of ethics violations.

D’Andrea Walker, whom Olszewski nominated last month to become the county administrative officer, was the acting director of the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation in spring 2022 when she provided security footage and information to a detective who was investigating Michael Beichler, her former Solid Waste Management bureau chief, at the request of Olszewski’s aide, according to a police report and emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

The detective stopped investigating after a Baltimore County assistant state’s attorney notified him of Beichler’s complaint against Walker.

Beichler retired in February 2022, shortly after filing a complaint with the Office of Inspector General Kelly Madigan accusing Olszewski and Walker of ethics violations. Beichler spoke anonymously about the complaint in a June 2022 article in The Baltimore Sun, and came forward earlier this month in a letter to county council members asking them to vote against Walker’s nomination.

The council received Walker’s nomination at its Tuesday work session, and will vote April 15 on her nomination to succeed Stacy Rodgers, who retired this month. Walker would be the third woman and second Black person to serve as county administrative officer, which oversees all county departments and reports directly to Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat currently running for Congress.

“Accordingly, based on what I have presented, Ms. Walker has not competently, professionally, or ethically led, directed, and managed the Department of Public Works and Transportation and her confirmation to County Administrative Officer would result in the same,” Beichler wrote to the seven members of the Baltimore County Council, referencing his inspector general complaint. “I cannot endorse Ms. Walker for the CAO position and ask your careful consideration to do likewise.”

Walker was unavailable for an interview, but referred to Beichler in astatement on Monday as a “disgruntled former employee” of whom she had “no opinion.”

During Tuesday’s council hearing, she told Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, she was “shocked” and “hurt” by Beichler’s complaint, and insinuated she was being criticized because she is a Black woman.

“I’m hurt by it. I’ve done nothing but treat them with respect,” Walker said. “Frankly, I walked into the situation, and there were people who didn’t want to work for me because I did not look like them.”

Whitney Dudley, a retired department worker, said in response there was a “mass exodus” of DPW employees when Walker became acting director after she asked them to “do things they knew were not what they should be doing,” not because of racism.

“I find it insulting to use that as a talking point,” Dudley said during Tuesday’s council work session.

“This is a huge responsibility, this is a large amount of money, trying to make sure the county keeps its bond rating,” she said. “She has many accomplishments and I recognize that, but I’m not sure that her appointment to this position is appropriate.”

Per a council-approved measure, the county administrative officer can earn between $217,000 and $325,000.

Council members like Democrats Mike Ertel and Julian Jones, and Republicans Wade Kach and David Marks praised Walker for her “transparency” and “responsiveness,” but did not address Beichler or Dudley’s remarks.

Olszewski first appointed Walker as acting director of Public Works in late 2020, a temporary position she held for more than two years until the council voted to permanently approve her in February 2023. During that time, Baltimore County residents passed a charter amendment that allows non-engineers to serve as the director of Public Works and Transportation. Walker, who holds business degrees from Morgan State University, is not a licensed engineer.

Beichler, who reported to Walker from November 2020 until his retirement, accused her and Olszewski of intervening on behalf of one of Olszewski’s campaign donors to grant a permit to operate a private trash hauler in Dundalk. The donor, Jack Haden, a frequent benefactor of Baltimore-area Democrats, hosted a fundraiser for Olszewski in June 2021.

Soon after the fundraiser, according to emails obtained under the Maryland Public Information Act, Walker contacted Beichler, who opposed the proposal because he said it would cost the county more than $1 million annually in lost revenue, for an update. Walker later approved the proposal in September 2021, but the council tabled a vote to approve it in July 2022, a month after The Sun published an article detailing Beichler’s complaint.

Madigan has declined repeatedly to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into whether Walker and Olszewski influenced the process for Haden to obtain a permit for his Eagle Transfer Station proposal.

Olszewski has maintained that he did not know about an inspector general investigation and that neither he nor his officials intervened to advance Haden’s proposal because of the fundraiser. He previously said he nominated Walker because of her qualifications and 20 years of experience serving in state and local government.

Olszewski’s former chief of staff, Pat Murray, accused Beichler of trespassing and stealing government property in a June 16, 2022, email to former Police Chief Melissa Hyatt: “Mr. Beichler was observed entering a Department of Public Works and Transportation facility after ordinary business hours on May 2 and May 5. I respectfully request the police department open an investigation into his unauthorized entrance into a county facility and his department from that facility with county property.” Walker provided Murray with the video showing Beichler entering and leaving the building, according to a police report from Detective Mike Westfall that was obtained via the Maryland Public Information Act.

“Thank you for sending this. I will update you as soon as we can,” Hyatt wrote back, including Walker and Rodgers in her reply. “Who should be the direct point of contact for my investigators?”

Walker said Beichler had retired months before, and his access to county buildings was revoked, according to Westfall’s report.

Police did not file charges after determining Beichler had not been told to not enter county buildings, had not stolen anything, and was let in the facility by another employee to make photo copies.

Former Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney William Bickel also warned Westfall against interviewing Beichler after being notified about the inspector general complaint, according to the police report. Instead, the county sent Beichler a letter warning him against entering county buildings without permission. Bickel retired from the State’s Attorney’s Office last December.

Murray left Baltimore County in August 2022 and now manages Democratic Del. Sarah Elfreth’s congressional campaign.

Hyatt stepped down in December 2022 after Olszewski didn’t renew her contract following a May 2022 vote of no confidence in her held by the county police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4.

During the council’s work session Tuesday, Walker listed her past experiences in state government, and said she was “excited” about what she could accomplish as county administrative officer.

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