Montgomery's inspector general says county officials have interfered

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Montgomery County's inspector general said Tuesday that unnamed county officials have withheld information and interfered with several investigations by his office, including some that have proved embarrassing for county government.

Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley, meeting with County Council members, cited problems with two cases involving the county's police department and a third looking into payments by the county's Department of Health and Human Services to Centro Familia, a nonprofit that offers services to preschoolers and trains in-home child-care providers.

Dagley, whom the council appointed in 2009 to a second four-year term, said he is worried that his office's ability to make "timely and objective reports" has been harmed. He told a council committee that the problems had intensified in the past year and that as recently as last week, whistleblowers were expressing similar concerns.

Montgomery is one of the few local governments in the country with its own inspector general, whose job is to root out waste, fraud and abuse and to audit county spending.

Dagley's office has been trying for more than a year to assess an internal police examination of the department's handling of a high-ranking fire official's four-car accident. The official, who was later dismissed, was found to have had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit but was not cited for any alcohol-related offenses. Two officers have sued the county to prevent Dagley from getting information.

Dagley said Tuesday that his office is no longer receiving requested information from the Department of Health and Human Services in the Centro Familia case. The department has been quietly negotiating with Centro Familia over claims that the nonprofit owes the county about $84,000 for fiscal 2009.

The inspector general also has examined a program that paid county employees to take classes and allowed police officers to purchase discounted weapons for personal use. In that case, and in an earlier examination of police disability claims, the administration of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) preempted Dagley's findings with findings of its own.

Leggett's spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, said he does not understand Dagley's complaints. "We have no idea what he is talking about," Lacefield said. "We have been cooperating fully with the inspector general at every turn."

Dagley's reports frequently spark controversy in Montgomery, where officials, many seeking reelection this year, portray the county as a bastion of good government.

Many health and human services nonprofits say the county government has gone overboard in its response to Dagley's findings, overwhelming the groups with requests for information.

After interim reports by the inspector general on the collision involving the fire official, Police Chief J. Thomas Manger defended the officers who allowed then-Assistant Fire Chief Gregory J. DeHaven to leave the scene of the 2008 accident without being charged with alcohol violations. Later tests showed that DeHaven was impaired.

In the case of tuition reimbursement, Montgomery's police union has blamed county managers for the program's trouble.

Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), who chairs the committee before which Dagley made his remarks, said she was "irritated" that she did not know of the claims sooner. They were included, in part, in a written report Dagley submitted to the council in late January.

Trachtenberg's future role in examining Dagley's claims is being scrutinized by council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). Last year, Trachtenberg asked the county's Ethics Commission to investigate Dagley's office after a salary increase was requested for a staff member. She said she did not plan to recuse herself from examination of Dagley's claims, saying the ethics probe "is a separate matter."

Floreen said: "I am aware of that as an issue and have discussed it with our counsel. It is unresolved at this point."

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