Hours after The Brew revealed Johnny Olszewski’s plans to introduce a bill at next Tuesday’s Baltimore County Council meeting to strip the Inspector General of her independence, the county executive himself confirmed the bill’s existence.
In an afternoon press release, Olszewski said the bill, which will place investigations by the corruption watchdog under the purview of a board dominated by administration insiders, was part of his efforts to hold county government “to the highest standards of ethics and accountability.”
“The administration worked in collaboration with the Inspector General to gather feedback on the proposed legislation,” the press release states.
It further quoted Olszewski as saying, “I look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the Inspector General to improve transparency and accountability at all levels of government.”
“Local government should be held to the highest standards of ethics and accountability” – Johnny Olszewski.
The statement was met by immediate blowback by Inspector General Kelly Madigan, who denied that she collaborated in any meaningful way in the bill’s drafting.
In fact, she said, her office objected to many measures in the bill that “would undermine the ability of the office to perform its mission” – measures that remain in the legislation.
Madigan’s statement reads in full:
[This] office first learned of the proposed legislation in a recent email with a proposed draft attached. Subsequently, the office met with members of the administration on two occasions to review their proposed draft. During those meetings, the office identified several issues with the proposed legislation that would affect the independence and undermine the ability of the office to perform its mission.
While some of the input was included in the proposed bill, the most important concerns raised by the office were not included. Specifically, the office believes the majority of [Oversight Board] members should not be individuals within the jurisdiction of the office, the Board should not be notified about the subject of a complaint nor the investigative strategy, and there should not be restrictions on access to records and documents.
The administration has still not publicly disclosed the contents of the bill, which would drastically alter the original IG statue, introduced by Olszewski and passed by the County Council in 2018.
Among the changes, the County IG would no longer have full access to county records, would not be able to enforce subpoenas, would need Oversight Board approval before undertaking any investigation, and would be subject both to firing by the board and the board’s review of complaints against the office.
Oversight boards are considered poor practice by the Association of Inspectors General.
Very few jurisdictions – and none on the federal level – give elected officials or others the right to appoint panels to review IG operations because such “oversight” is considered an inherent conflict of interest.
The Association of Inspectors General says “best practices” call for an IG office free of political interference and policies enacted that ensure that whistleblowers as well as targets of investigations are not subject to retaliation or premature identification.
Baltimore City’s Inspector General is subject to an annual review by a panel, but the panel does not have the sweeping powers that Olszewski is proposing in the county.
The latter’s board would be composed of:
• County Attorney James R. Benjamin Jr., who will act as chair and assign staff to the board.
• County Administrative Officer Stacy L. Rodgers or a designee.
• Budget and Finance Director Edward P. Blades or a designee.
• County Council Chairman Julian E. Jones Jr. or a designee.
• The secretary of the County Council.
• Two county residents approved by Olszewski and Jones who are on the faculty of a law school, public policy school or public administration school.
The composition would give Olszewski three appointees, Jones two appointees, and two additional appointees mutually agreed upon.
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