Harford County Council member Aaron Penman is returning to active duty with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.
“I’ve committed my life to service both our country and our community,” Penman said. “And now I can continue to do that on two fronts, both as a public safety officer and as a legislator.”
The Forest Hill resident serves District B, which reaches from Baldwin to Joppa, and extends to Abingdon, Bel Air and Forest Hill.
Sheriff Jeff Gahler welcomed Penman’s return as a sergeant in a news release from the sheriff’s office.
“The taxpayers of Harford County have invested greatly in Sgt. Penman over the course of his career,” Gahler said in the release, “and returning his experience and skills to the Sheriff’s Office’s ranks is a benefit to public safety in our County.”
After working for the sheriff’s office for more than 23 years, Penman, 45, retired in October 2022 before being elected to the County Council in the November general election. He said he left his job because of a county charter provision that would have precluded him from serving in both positions simultaneously.
The charter provision in question states that a “council member shall not hold any other office of profit or employment in the government of the State of Maryland, Harford County, or any municipality within Harford County.”
The same provision was the basis of a Harford County lawsuit filed against County Council member Jacob Bennett in December 2022, alleging Bennett was unable to serve on the council while working as a Harford County Public Schools teacher.
A Harford County Circuit Court judge ruled against Bennett, but the Supreme Court of Maryland overturned that ruling in April, saying that Bennett was able to hold both positions. In its ruling, the state’s highest court determined that there was no conflict of interest because the school system is not an entity of the county or state government.
According to the sheriff’s office news release, Gahler waited until the Maryland Supreme Court’s full written opinion on Bennett’s case was released on Aug. 30 to decide whether to rehire Penman.
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“A thorough review of the opinion by Sheriff Gahler and the Sheriff’s Office’s Legal Affairs Section, makes it clear that Penman received guidance not consistent with the Court’s decision,” the release read, “and his premature separation from the Agency was not required as the Sheriff’s Office is also neither a State or County agency.”
In the Aug. 30 Supreme Court opinion, the sheriff’s office is referred to in a footnote as an example of “non-County agencies that receive funding from the County.”
Bennett told The Aegis that the issue is “a lot more complicated and a lot more nuanced” than it appeared in the sheriff’s office news release. He also said his case was not an “apples-to-apples” comparison to Penman’s because of varying levels of independence between the sheriff’s office and HCPS.
In a statement Tuesday, Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly said, “I am monitoring this situation to see what actions the County Council is going to take. They have the primary responsibility for determining the eligibility of their members to sit on the council.”
Penman said his tentative starting date at the sheriff’s office is Sept. 18. While he will return as a sergeant, he said the position is “in flux,” so his exact role has yet to be determined.
“The council is not a career,” Penman said. “It’s not a full-time job. People should be serving on the council and work in different elements in the community.”