Former Baltimore County police chief still on payroll, will receive $117,000 severance package

Ex-Baltimore Co. Police Chief Jim Johnson still on county payroll; will also receive $117,000 severance

Six weeks after leaving his position as head of the Baltimore County Police Department, former chief Jim Johnson is still on the county payroll.

Johnson, who retired at the end of January, will continue to receive his salary through the end of March, making a total of $45,954 after leaving the job, officials told The Baltimore Sun.

When the paychecks stop, he will receive a severance package totaling $117,000.

"At the request of the county executive, he is being kept on payroll until April 1 as a show of gratitude for, and in honor of, his decades of service as a leader in the Baltimore County Police Department," a spokeswoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement.

The county provided the information in response to inquiries from The Baltimore Sun. The arrangement had not previously been made public, and several members of the County Council said they were not aware of it.

The compensation "needs to be explained to the council," said Councilwoman Vicki Almond.

Johnson, who became police chief in 2007, could not be reached for comment. He worked for the Police Department as an officer and in other positions for more than 30 years.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, announced in January that Johnson would retire at the end of that month. He named Terry Sheridan, who previously held the job of county police chief from 1996 to 2007, as Johnson's replacement.

At the time, Kamenetz declined to comment specifically on reasons for Johnson's departure but said, "At this time we choose to go in a different direction."

Johnson's $117,000 severance includes unused vacation time and equals 120 days of pay, county officials said in response to questions from The Sun. In a statement, they said such severance "is standard practice for members of the County's Executive Pay Plan with 30 or more years of service."

The county executive declined through an aide to comment on the severance agreement, saying it was a personnel matter.

The severance is in addition to county pension benefits to which Johnson is entitled. Administration officials said state law prevents them from releasing details of his retirement benefits.

At the time of his retirement, Johnson had an annual salary of about $254,000, officials said.

Johnson began his career as a cadet in the county 911 center in 1979. He was well-liked among county leaders and many of them expressed surprise at the announcement of his retirement in January.

Sheridan became acting chief Jan. 26 and was confirmed by the County Council on Feb. 21. In addition to a salary of $254,214, he is eligible to draw his pension for his previous service with the county for six months while also collecting his salary, county officials said.

"At the end of the first six months, his pension stops completely and does not accrue until such time as he leaves county service," they said in the statement to The Sun.

Sheridan also receives a state pension from his time as Maryland State Police superintendent, a position he held from 2007 through 2011, according to the Maryland State Retirement Agency. The state's contributions total about $61,069 a year.

Through a spokeswoman, Sheridan declined to comment for this article.

Several County Council members said they did not know that Johnson was still getting paid — or that Sheridan was able to receive a county pension and salary at the same time.

"The County Council wasn't privy to it," said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.

"I was not aware that [Johnson] was still being paid and I was not aware of Chief Sheridan's arrangement either," said Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said he understands that "there are situations when you need a good transition between the outgoing and incoming chiefs of police."

"But I hope we remember this when we're looking at salaries and benefits for front-line police officers," Marks said. "The county is always so conscious about cutting costs, but at the same time we're paying out a lot of money in situations like this."

Council Chairman Tom Quirk said a severance agreement for a police chief is "ultimately the county executive's decision."

"It's not uncommon for different executives" to receive a severance package, said Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat. "I would defer to the county executive on that."

Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, also said he did not know the details of the agreement.

"Chief Johnson worked for the county for over 30 years, so whatever agreement he made with the county executive, I'm sure they took all that into consideration," Jones said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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