In the wee hours, after sending out amendments that would drastically limit the powers of Baltimore County’s inspector general, the chair of the County Council, Julian E. Jones Jr., summoned his fellow politicians to a private meeting about the changes.
“Please see the attached documents,” Jones wrote in his message, sent after midnight on Sunday (December 3).
“I would like all the members to meet at 5:00 p.m. Monday to discuss the amendments as a group,” he continued, attaching a copy of the amended legislation that was never publicly posted or disclosed by his office.
“This came as a surprise and shock to me. I was never informed of the amendments by the chair,” Madigan told The Brew on Monday.
Madigan said the amendments would “in one fell swoop” undo the recommendations by a blue ribbon commission that were incorporated in the legislation.
Jones’ efforts were thwarted after The Brew published details of the amendments an hour before the public meeting.
This led Jones to postpone a vote on the bills for two weeks and complain afterwards that he was a victim of “leaked amendments” and of “fake news.”
Open Meetings Act Violation?
The 5 p.m. meeting called by Jones appears to be in direct violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.
The law requires government meetings to be held in public and, in the case of an unscheduled meeting, that adequate public notice be given of the time and location of the meeting, neither of which was done here.
This is not the first time the Open Meetings Act was ignored by the county council and Jones.
Last March, County Attorney James J. Benjamin Jr. confirmed that the council had violated the law by holding a private meeting with corrections director Walt Pesterfield. Benjamin called the violation “inadvertent and unintentional,” and said the Council “would be mindful of this [the law] moving forward.”
“I don’t know if a meeting took place. And because of that, I do not know if there was a violation of Open Meetings” – County Attorney James Benjamin.
Asked yesterday if the 5 p.m. meeting violated the law, Benjamin said he was not aware of the meeting, although he was present at Monday’s public session.
“I don’t know if a meeting took place. I don’t know how many people came, if the meeting took place. And because of that, I do not know if there was a violation of Open Meetings,” Benjamin said in an email.
The Open Meetings Compliance Board can levy a civil penalty and impose a $250 fine for the first violation and $1,000 for every violation thereafter within three years – but such a levy is rarely imposed.
No Comment from Councilmen
Neither Jones nor the five councilmen present at the meeting – Todd Crandell, Mike Ertel, David Marks, Izzy Patoka and Pat Young – have responded to questions from The Brew about why they attended the meeting and whether they thought it violated the Open Meetings Act.
Thomas H. Bostwick, secretary to the council, also did not answer questions about the meeting or the bill amendments, which he drafted on behalf of Jones and submitted to him last Friday, December 1.
The amendments came days after a November 28 work session in which no council member questioned the bills.
Throughout the public session, which Jones chaired, there was no mention of any changes to the legislation, and there were no reservations expressed by Jones, who had introduced the legislation on behalf of the Olszewski administration.
The most drastic change that Jones sought would create an advisory board to oversee Madigan’s office.
The board, dominated by county officials, would be empowered to approve the office’s “operational procedures,” “ensure the inspector general complies with all applicable laws and policies,” review complaints about the inspector general, and review draft investigative reports, with the power to “recommend changes or modifications to a draft report if the advisory board disagrees with the substance or any item contained in a report” (italics added).
Magidan says the proposed changes would undercut her office’s mission to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in county government and subject her office to political influence, substantial delays and stonewalling by county government.
Yesterday, she issued a press release calling on Baltimore County residents to register their opposition to the amendments.
Olszewski Claims No Knowledge
A similar oversight board was proposed in 2021 by County Executive Johnny Olszewski – with Jones’ avid support – after Madigan exposed financial irregularities by William “Chris” McCollum, a former Ag Center employee who fundraised for Olszewski and Jones.
McCollum currently is in the county jail after pleading guilty to stealing $140,000 from campaign entities linked to former councilwoman Cathy Bevins and former county executive Jim Smith, both Democrats and allies of Jones and Olszewski.
Olszewski backed off the restrictive legislation after a public outcry, forming a blue ribbon commission to study the office and recommend best practices. After 10 months of study and $100,000 in taxpayer dollars, the commission released a report that contained 20 recommendations, including that the IG have better access to county records and not be compromised by any type of oversight board.
Many, but not all, of the recommendations were incorporated in Bills 83-23 and 83-24.
Madigan, meanwhile, issued reports on two complaints involving Jones, finding that he had improperly used the county’s email network to solicit campaign donations and had aided a Towson businessman and campaign contributor who wanted the county to repair a private alley.
Jones refused to cooperate in the investigations and objected to both reports as unfair and unfounded.
“Not having the public aware. . . and county executive not knowing has all fed into the concerns being raised” – Johnny Olszewski.
After Monday’s public meeting, Olszewski issued a statement saying he was fully in support of Madigan and had no knowledge of the amendments sought by Jones.
Interviewed by Fox45News yesterday, Olszewski offered no direct criticism of Jones, saying, “I don’t know the reasoning behind the amendments.”
“Not having the public aware, the inspector general [and] county executive not knowing, has all fed into the concerns being raised, rightfully so,” he told the interviewer, saying he hoped the bill would be passed un-amended.
“I have not spoken to the chair or members of the council since last night,” he said, suggesting that he was in contact with Jones earlier in the day when rumors started circulating about the amendments.
“I’m sure the council will have conversations about how they run their process,” Olszewski remarked, adding that “we all believe in accountability for all members of government.”
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