Inspector general finds cooperation, independence

But the controversial Seven Locks audit has revived debate over Dagley’s role

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Eleven months into his job as the county’s inspector general, Thomas J. Dagley says county agencies have been cooperative and his boss, the County Council, has given his office what it needs to help oversee the efficient operation of the county government.

‘‘The council has gone out of its way to ensure the independence of the Office of the Inspector General,” Dagley, 55, said Monday.

So far the relationship with county officials has been amicable, Dagley said. That is in contrast to his predecessor, Norman D. Butts, the county’s first inspector general, who clashed with the county executive and the council.

‘‘It’s played out in a way that the law intended it to be,” Dagley said.

That means he gets to decide where the office needs to focus without being pressured by anyone, Dagley said.

‘‘We rely almost exclusively on information provided by county residents and our own risk analysis of county programs and activities,” he said.

Dagley is scheduled to discuss his office’s latest endeavor, an audit of the controversial decision to build a replacement Seven Locks Elementary School in Potomac, with the council’s Management and Fiscal Policy and Education committees at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Rockville.

Dagley’s honeymoon may be over.

‘‘I would not expect a welcome wagon from everyone in there,” said Michael L. Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg, who chairs the Education Committee. ‘‘You may get a fruit basket, but don’t expect my name on the note.”

Thomas J. Dagley
Inspector general since April 2005
Professional background:
— Board of Examiners, Baldridge National Quality Program
— Performance management consultant, Johns Hopkins University
— Senior performance auditor, Department of Legislative Services for Maryland General Assembly
— Inspector general, Maryland Department of Human Resources
— Postal inspector, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service (Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Newark, N.J.; Boston; Chicago)
Subin has been critical of Dagley’s handling of the Seven Locks audit, saying it is a political issue that is outside the inspector general’s purview and accusing Dagley of ignoring information from the school planners.

School officials have been equally critical of Dagley’s work and question the inspector general’s authority to investigate the school system, which is a state agency.

Since Dagley took the post in April 2005 (filling out Butts’ term before being appointed to a four-year term that began in July), his office has closed more than 80 complaints. It has launched audits into the county workers compensation program’s management practices; the cost of accidents, injuries and illnesses involving county employees; the reliability of financial reports and program performance measures for select county programs; and the county’s procurement practices, in addition to the Seven Locks project.

Montgomery is the only county in Maryland with an inspector general. Dagley’s annual salary is $102,056. He can be removed only ‘‘for cause,” such as fraud.

There is no overall state inspector general, although some state agencies do have inspector generals. Dagley was inspector general for the state Department of Human Resources from 1999 to 2001.

Most recently, he worked for the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services, overseeing a financial management audit of Prince George’s County Public Schools.

Some county officials have asked if the county needs an inspector general. The office was created in 1997, but only after the council voted unanimously to override County Executive Douglas M. Duncan’s veto.

‘‘People said, ‘We’re Montgomery County. We’re a model of good government,’” recalled Isiah Leggett, a former councilman who is running for county executive. Leggett (D) introduced the bill establishing the office. ‘‘I said, ‘Well, if it’s a model of success, we have nothing to worry about.’ The initial reaction was not warm and fuzzy.”

Things did not change much during Butts’ tenure. Both the legislative and executive branches criticized him for conducting audits that duplicated work by other county auditors.

‘‘It’s been contentious at times with the executive branch,” said Leggett, who supports strengthening the Office of the Inspector General by writing it into the county charter. ‘‘I don’t think there’s any IG around the country who hasn’t ruffled some feathers.”

The relationship between the inspector general and the county government has improved under Dagley, said Steven A. Silverman (D-At large) of Silver Spring, who is also running for county executive.

‘‘I think it’s a far more cooperative relationship between the IG and the executive branch and other agencies,” Silverman said. ‘‘It’s far less confrontational. He hasn’t been complaining and neither have the agencies.”

When Butts announced his resignation in May 2004 to become finance director for Leesburg, Va., Subin suggested cutting the inspector general’s operating budget — it is now $480,000 — and putting the office under the executive branch.

‘‘I did not think it was a good idea” to put the office under the County Council, Subin said last week.

While there is a need for an inspector general, Subin said, ‘‘instead of being used as a tool for the executive to maintain honesty in his own branch, now it is seen as a weapon ... There is an inherent friction in the way it is now.”

Dagley says it does not matter who his boss is.

‘‘If senior leaders are in agreement that there’s value for the IG model, then the IG can be effective in either branch of government,” he said.