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Maryland Politics
Posted at 05:59 PM ET, 02/02/2012

Montgomery legislators, officials scuffle over transparency

It was supposed to be a mundane Thursday meeting, an update on how the Montgomery County government audits itself. But by the time it ended, County Council members butted heads with the executive branch over how transparent it is.

On Thursday, council members met to discuss reports from two county auditing agencies — the inspector general’s office, which serves the County Council, and the Office of Internal Audit, which serves County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).

But what caused controversy during the meeting were two reports from the internal audit’s office that were not given to council members or widely disseminated to the public. One involved problems the county had with monitoring where its construction funding was going, and the other involved an investigation into the county transportation department’s revenue processing center. The reports were completed about three months ago.

The transportation department report was not released to the public, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Fariba Kassiri said, in part because the processing center “handles a large amount of money.”

The Washington Post asked for the reports prior to the meeting through a Maryland Public Information Act request. County officials denied The Post’s request for the transportation department’s report because of “executive privilege” and because it was a “interagency and intra-agency” document.

Kassiri said reports are given to the council’s office of legislative oversight, another auditing agency. But council members urged county officials to make the reports, which are not published online and were available only through Maryland Public Information Act requests, more publicly available.

The construction funding report, which the county did provide to The Post, said that county officials investigated how $27 million dollars of county construction funding was used and that they could not properly account for nearly 30 percent of it.

County officials did not mention that finding. Instead, they disclosed another finding of the report — that there were good internal controls in place to monitor construction funding.

On the transportation report, Larry Dyckman, director of the internal audit office, said county officials were worried that individual employees of the processing center would be threatened. Kassiri also suggested that the department’s processing of large amounts of money was justification for keeping the report private.

“If the notion is we didn’t publish or make available for the public a particular audit because there was an institution involved that handles a lot of money ... that isn’t a satisfactory answer,” said Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) during the meeting.

Council members urged county officials to clarify their position on what reports are public and to better disseminate them to the public. Berliner said redactions can be made for portions that would cause harm to employees.

By  |  05:59 PM ET, 02/02/2012

 
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