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Inspector General criticizes Baltimore County's financial handling of special programs under Rec and Parks

wasted money
Posted at 2:13 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 14:23:22-04

TOWSON, Md. — A recently released Inspector General's report criticizes Baltimore County's financial handling of the Group Leadership Program.

According to a July 31 investigative report, the county is owed $139,021.63 -- a debt that once reached as high as $420,353.13.

The program in question is administered by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.

It currently consists of 40 recreation, nature, agricultural, and environmental councils made up of non- profit organizations that operate programs, activities, and events for youth activities, adult recreation programs, tournaments, childcare programs, and other specialized activities like dance and martial arts.

The county’s role in all this is to provide the facilities for the activities, to pay for the overhead costs, and to manage the logistics of the program.

To do that, the county hires community supervisors or similar positions such as park rangers and farm managers to oversee the programs.

Until about 2005, the Inspector General says they would have been considered general contractors.

However, they're now county employees allowing them to earn special wages, different than traditional pay scales.

The Inspector General says this ushered in an agreement which left the councils little oversight and the ability to tell the county which programs will be offered, when they will operate, who will lead them, for how many hours, and at what pay rate.

Because of that, the county fell behind on tracking the money spent on the programs and the amount that was owed back to them.

The Inspector General highlighted a number of factors that contributed to the issue including the fact that no timesheets are required. Additionally, there have been at least three changes made to the payroll systems.

There is concern within the Inspector General's Office that the money will never be recouped over fears of optics.

The investigation revealed that the County’s reluctance to enforce the collection of deficit balances under Group Leadership has historically been a three-part problem. First, the County for the past several years has not had total confidence in its own Group Leadership figures. Second, the County is concerned about the optics of canceling programming, which is currently its only option to try and enforce collections from the Councils. Third and most important, Group Leadership has operated strictly under a “handshake agreement” since its inception. Because there are no written contracts or binding documents setting forth the obligations of the parties and the consequences of not fulfilling those obligations, it would be extremely difficult to legally enforce the collection of debts.

The report suggested a few solutions to those problems.

"The threshold question for the County moving forward is whether Group Leadership employees should remain County employees, but be subjected to the same requirements, responsibilities, and oversight assigned to traditional County employees, or go back to being independent contractors working directly for the Councils."

The entire report can be read here.