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Harford sheriff asks for removal of moonlight ban, then backs off for now

Harford Sheriff Jeff Gahler says a ban on the sheriff earning outside income should be repealed, but he back away from pressing the issue with local legislators in the current General Assembly session.
Harford Sheriff Jeff Gahler says a ban on the sheriff earning outside income should be repealed, but he back away from pressing the issue with local legislators in the current General Assembly session. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Shortly after the start of the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session last month, Harford County's new sheriff asked the county's legislators to repeal a law which forbids him from having outside employment, but he later backed away from the request and says he will wait until next year to seek the change.

Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler sent a letter to Del. Rick Impallaria, chairman of Harford's House delegation, on Jan. 21 requesting legislation to repeal Section 2-309 of the Maryland Code. Harford's other seven delegates and three state senators were copied on the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Aegis.

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Gahler cited both his position as an adjunct faculty member at The Johns Hopkins University, "teaching undergraduate students enrolled in the Public Safety Leadership Program," and his role, since 2012, as "an operating partner with the Advanced Leadership Consortium, a private safety consulting and training company."

Impallaria said he immediately recused himself, because his brother is a deputy sheriff and thus works for Gahler. He turned the request over to Del. Teresa Reilly, the vice-chair of the Harford delegation.

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Reilly confirmed last Friday that Gahler has since withdrawn the request.

"Sheriff Gahler did submit a request asking if the delegation could possibly assist in removing the restrictive language and bringing the statute in line with the 22 counties and Baltimore City where there are no like requirements," she said, noting the restriction "was done years ago" and "is probably not needed."

"However," she continued, "since that point the sheriff was unable to meet with the delegation and as time is running out quickly to submit legislation, he agreed to go ahead and withdraw it and bring it up next year. So, it is on hold."

The ban on outside employment is unique. None of the sheriffs in the 22 other counties or Baltimore City are prohibited by statute from moonlighting.

The Harford law, meanwhile, is very specific that the "sheriff may not have employment outside that position unless: the employment is a part-time teaching position; and the total maximum yearly income from the outside employment [teaching position] is $2,500 or less."

Gahler said Monday he withdrew the request after some of the legislators posed questions that raised his own concerns they might think he was planning to do work that would interfere with his duties as sheriff.

"I wanted everyone to be 100 percent sure I intend to be a full-time sheriff," he said. "I worked my tail off to get this job and I'm going to work 10 times harder now that I'm in it and to stay in it."

"I still believe there ought to be no such restrictions, because there are already plenty under the state ethics law," he said.

The delay will also give him an opportunity to do a little more research into the history behind the ban on outside income, Gahler said.

Anecdotally, Gahler said he has been told the ban dates to the 1990s during the administration of former sheriff Joseph Meadows and may have been tied to a previous pay increase approved by legislators, but he said he wants to talk with Meadows about it.

Elected in November, Gahler took office on Dec. 1. His salary, set by a state law, is $116,792.

That puts Gahler's pay around the upper middle range of the state's sheriffs, whose pay rates vary widely from a $60,000 minimum in Somerset County to $149,600 in Prince George's County, where the sheriff's salary is equal to that of a circuit court judge, according to the Maryland Annotated Code.

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Harford's sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the non-municipal areas of the county, making him a de facto county police chief, the largest county in the state in terms of population where the sheriff, an office mandated by the state constitution, runs the police force, as well as being responsible for court security, local corrections facilities, the service of criminal warrants and the service of civil complaints and other court documents.

In the six more populous jurisdictions, Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City, the sheriff doesn't run the police department. Meanwhile, in Frederick County, the next most populous behind Harford where the sheriff is also a police chief, the position pays $125,000 annually.

Gahler said the money he is paid for teaching at Johns Hopkins doesn't exceed the $2,500 limit.

He also said he is not concerned about outside income as much as he is about remaining an active partner in his consulting firm that was started with two other people, one of whom, William Davis, now works for Gahler as a major in the Sheriff's Office.

The other partner is John Skinner, according to the firm's website, http://www.alcleadership.com, which also lists Gahler as a former Maryland State Police Barrack, troop and division commander but makes no mention of his current employment as sheriff. He is pictured in a State Police uniform.

"The Advanced Leadership Consortium (ALC) is a team of public safety and business management experts committed to providing superior leadership development through dynamic training, consulting and organizational assessment," states the website. "Using an interactive learning design, ALC's programs enhance the core leadership traits of effective communication, critical problem solving and strategic planning."

Gahler said he sought guidance from the Maryland Attorney General's Office, which he said advised him he could still be an partner in the firm, as long as it is a "non participating role" and he doesn't receive income. He said he is following that advice. He also said there is no restriction on Davis participating in the firm, so long as he follows the agency's rules on outside employment and conflicts of interest.

"Obviously ALC wouldn't do any business with the Sheriff's Office," he said, noting, however, that firm had done some consulting with the agency before he became sheriff.

He also said the firm did a recent seminar on active shooter incidents in Connecticut, but he did not participate, in part because of the advice from the AG's office and also because he has been extremely busy with sheriff's business.

"I really asked for a change in the law to clear up any confusion," he said.

This article is corrected from an earlier version, that misidentified William Davis and John Skinner, two operating partners in Advanced Leadership Consortium. Davis is a major in the Harford County Sheriff's Office. Skinner is not associated with the Sheriff's Office.

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