Two men vowing to bring streamlined order to the sheriff's office are squaring off in a race focusing on the repercussions of "Nazi mimicry" and lack of effective leadership.
The candidates, retired county police lieutenant Michael A. Chiuchiolo and Army Reserve Capt. Richmond Laney, are stressing tighter management for an office that in April stirred a wave of controversy because of the Nazi-like behavior of two top-ranking deputies.
For the third election in a row, the incumbent sheriff has lost his bid for re-election, as Herbert L. Stonesifer -- openly criticized in recent months for his failure to discipline the two deputies -- was defeated by Chiuchiolo in the Democratic primary.
The deputies, Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt, have been suspended with pay for conduct unbecoming an officer. Sheriff's officials say the two brothers on several occasions used Nazi salutes and German expressions such as "seig heil" while on duty.
Chiuchiolo and Laney, a Republican, differ in their leadership resumes, which suggest the voter's choice boils down to police-style vs. Army-style.
"Anyone who goes into that office with no experience in law-enforcement management is fooling himself," said Chiuchiolo, 49, who throughout the campaign has touted his 25 years of experience as a county police lieutenant. He retired July 1.
"You can't just walk in there without a law-enforcement background. The office has been lacking it for years," Chiuchiolo said. "I believe that's one of the reasons why the incumbents have not gained re-election. They just haven't been qualified people."
Laney, a 33-year-old Ellicott City resident and a product evaluation engineer of military radar systems for Westinghouse Corp., says he would bring strict Army discipline to the sheriff's office.
The Pruitt issue, Laney said, was occurring in the office for 10 years, without any reprimands or disciplinary action.
"To be an effective leader, you have to tell people when they do something the right way and when they do something the wrong way," Laney said. "I intend to set up clear standards in that office and I will make the deputies meet them."
Laney pointed to an Aug. 22 incident in which a county sheriff's deputy shot a 100-pound Doberman pinscher near Emory Street in Ellicott City. The deputy, Cpl. James Horan, feared the dog might attack him and fired two shots, one of which killed the animal.
The shooting was ruled justifiable and no disciplinary action was taken.
But Laney said the firing of a gun in a crowded area "was excessive, and I think the office needs clearer standards on that. We're here to protect the public, not endanger them."
Although sheriffs in Howard County have limited law enforcement duties -- primarily courtroom security and the serving of legal papers -- the 37-person department has been the focus of much community interest due to the Pruitt controversy.
Chiuchiolo said numerous residents have brought up the Pruitt situation during his campaign, with the sentiment being that the two deputies should not be receiving pay while suspended.
"They are both still on full salary, and that's very much on the minds of voters," Chiuchiolo said. "It's still a big issue that needs to be dealt with."
Chiuchiolo, a Clarksville resident and a former watch commander for the county police department, said he plans to re-organize the office, although "it would be presumptuous of me" to predict what those changes would entail.
Laney said that along with a tougher discipline policy, he would likely require deputies to undergo additional training, which he says is the cornerstone of effective Army management.
Many residents don't know what the sheriff's office is in Howard County and the chief sheriff is often regarded as "a shadow person that disappears in the office, only to come out when it's time to campaign," Laney said.
Laney assures voters that "I'm not going to disappear into the office" and that he will keep a higher profile than past sheriffs.
"There have been some problems in the office and it takes an administrator and a leader to clear them up," Laney said. "I've learned that in the Army."
The four-year term carries an an annual salary of $38,000.