The Baltimore County Council postponed to later this month an anticipated vote to permanently enshrine the Office of the Inspector General into law after Council Chair Julian Jones introduced last-minute amendments to his own bills that would severely limit the watchdog agency’s investigative powers.
Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, released a draft bill less than two hours before Monday’s council meeting. The council was poised to pass two pieces of legislation that would establish the Inspector General’s office in the county charter, and allow Inspector General Kelly Madigan to compel records via subpoena after 30 days during an investigation.
Jones’ amendments would implement an oversight board for Madigan’s office; allow recipients to wait up to 30 days before complying with a subpoena for records; and allow the county to reimburse for legal fees any employee who had been involved in an investigation by the Inspector General, according to the draft obtained by The Baltimore Sun. The oversight board would be made up of the County Attorney, Council Secretary, County Auditor, executive director of the Ethics Commission, and three council-appointed members. The Inspector General would be required to submit investigative reports to the oversight board before publication.
Neither Madigan nor County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. saw the amendments ahead of Monday’s meeting, where the council postponed voting on the bills to allow for public discussion of the amendments. The original bills, which Jones sponsored at Olszewski’s request, were discussed at a Nov. 28 work session, where Jones did not voice any dissent. The bills are in line with recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability, which Olszewski founded to offer advice to Madigan’s office.
Jones’ amendments did “not have the benefit of public weigh in,” Madigan said. “The Blue Ribbon Commission met publicly for 10 months, took testimony, and came out with a report. Everybody had a chance to weigh in.”
The commission recommended last spring that the county ensure the independence of the Office of the Inspector General.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Inspector General’s office said Jones’ bills were “contrary” to the commission’s findings and urged county residents to voice their opposition to their local council members.
“[Jones’ bill] effectively disregards all of the hard work by the commission, the subject matter experts who testified before the Commission, and the members of the public who participated in the process.”
Jones and council members David Marks, Pat Young, Mike Ertel, and Todd Crandell voted to postpone the amendments for discussion at a Dec. 18 work session. Councilman Izzy Patoka, a Pikesville Democrat, dissented because he wanted to immediately vote on the original bills. Councilman Wade Kach, who was attending remotely, did not vote due to technical errors.
Olszewski said in a statement after Monday’s postponement vote that he was “fully committed” to the Office of the Inspector General, and to implementing “commonsense legislation” in line with the commission’s recommendations: “We continue to support our proposed legislation as introduced.”
Jones referred to the draft bill as “fake news,” after the Monday meeting, then said he would wait to address any questions about the amendments when they came before the council at the next work session.
“Why ask why,” he said when asked why he had drafted the amendments.
Jones, who has been the subject of two Inspector General investigations, has frequently criticized Madigan and her office. He previously supported efforts to stymie that office’s powers and ability to obtain internal county records during investigations.
The original bills, which Jones sponsored at Olszewski’s request, would permanently establish the Inspector General’s office as a county agency, and insulates it from future attempts to shrink or dismantle it by mandating that the county justify any reductions to its budget in writing and in public hearings.
The other bill would reduce the amount of time the Inspector General must wait before issuing a subpoena for records sought during an investigation from 90 days to 30 days, on recommendation from the commission.
Jones was named in two investigations, both in 2022. He was cited for improperly using his government email address to solicit reelection donations. He also overruled public works’ officials objections to using county funds to pave a privately-owned alleyway in downtown Towson, at the request of its owner, developer Wayne Gioioso.
“Absolutely not,” said Jones, when asked if he wanted to hamstring Madigan’s office.
WYPR reported in March 2022 that Pat Murray, Olszewski’s then-chief of staff, had written to Madigan in April 2021 instructing her to seek the county’s approval in writing for records.
Madigan, who was then investigating some of Olszewski’s aides for giving preferential treatment to a developer who had donated to Olszewski’s campaign and was planning to build a tennis barn, refused.
Jones and former member Cathy Bevins, who was also named in an investigation, criticized Madigan the following month during a budget hearing for her “aggressive” tactics, and called for an oversight board to monitor Madigan’s office.
Olszewski drafted a bill in July 2021 that would have instituted such a board, limited the inspector general’s access to records, and allowed the county administration to fire her with cause. The bill was never introduced following criticism from an industry group, the Association of Inspectors General.