After saying earlier in the week he wasn’t sure if he would pay back money requested by Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler for use of a mobile drug abuse education tool at what the sheriff described as a campaign event, Councilman Andre Johnson on Friday delivered a letter and check for $666 to the sheriff’s office.

Gahler had requested that Johnson pay $666 — the amount the sheriff deemed it cost his office to provide the HOPE House and two deputies and two volunteers to man it during what Gahler characterized as a campaign event for Johnson Aug. 10 at the Boys & Girls Club in Edgewood.

Advertisement

“It’s such a petty situation. The thing is, for me, it’s all about the citizens in my district and the Boys and Girls Club. I really just wanted to put this behind me,” Johnson said. “Because we have so much bickering and fighting in the political arena, it just doesn’t make sense to me. Here, whether we have a disagreement or misunderstanding, let’s just focus on the people in the community and move forward.”

The councilman said he still thinks the sheriff mischaracterized the event, which he said was a community resource fair, but nonetheless said he wanted to repay the money Gahler said belonged to the taxpayers of Harford County.

At that event, the sheriff’s office provided the HOPE House trailer, a mobile drug education tool used in its efforts to educate the public about the use and abuse of opioids. Intended for people 18 and older, it’s a representation of the unexpected places addicts may use to hide drugs.

In an Aug. 24 letter to Johnson, Gahler said the Aug. 10 event was not just a resource fair but a campaign event for Johnson, and providing the HOPE House for such an activity was a campaign finance violation.

“I am notifying you that I expect that taxpayers funds used by the Sheriff’s Office to work the fundraiser be paid back to the citizens of Harford County,” Gahler, a Republican, wrote. “It is not proper that taxpayers bore the expense of your fundraising event.”

Johnson, a Democrat, sent a letter to Gahler Sept. 10 requesting a meeting but on Friday said he hand-delivered a second letter with a check for $666.

In the letter delivered Friday, Johnson explained that all communication regarding the HOPE House was between his campaign manager, not his legislative aide, and the sheriff’s office.

“In support of your efforts to combat heroin and other drug-related overdoses in Harford County, we thought it was a great idea to invite the [HOPE] House mobile to the event,” Johnson wrote. “We thought the Aug. 10 event would have been an excellent opportunity for your office to build a relationship with the Edgewood community, while simultaneously raising awareness and informing parents of the warning signs of heroin addiction and abuse.”

The money from the sale of food at the event totaled $250, which Johnson said in his letter was not “intermingled” with campaign funds.

Because the Boys and Girls Club provided the location for the event, Johnson said his campaign would add $750 to the $250 raised to present the club with a $1,000 check.

“I believe in the mission of the club and will support 50 children over the next year at any Harford County location,” Johnson wrote. “I welcome you to join me at the check presentation ceremony.”

Even though he paid back the money, Johnson said he would still like to meet with the sheriff.

“I would still like to understand how they came to their conclusion,” he said. “There doesn’t need to be any fighting between me and the sheriff’s office because then the people are going to get involved.

“There’s already a notion out there in a number of communities about police relations. I’m a former police officer, I’m all for bringing law enforcement and the community together. I don’t want it to explode into something it shouldn’t be,” Johnson said.

Advertisement

A sheriff’s office spokeswoman said Monday that Gahler had received a letter and a personal check from Johnson.

“However, there are continued concerns the sheriff will be addressing with the councilman this week,” Cristie Hopkins said.

She declined to share those concerns but said she would discuss them once Gahler has spoken with Johnson.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement