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County Executive Robert Neall yesterday appointed Deputy Police Chief Robert Russell as acting chief, while officials conduct a nationwide search for a replacement for outgoing Chief George Wellham III.

Neall also appointed Paul C. Halgley, a deputy fire chief, as acting fire administrator. Former Fire Administrator Joseph M. Connell retired last week.

Russell, who has been on the department for almost 25 years, willserve as chief for an indefinite period, said Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman.

"There is no rush to fill these positions," she said yesterday.

Russell, who enjoys the support of many rank and file officers, as well as from Wellham and remaining department administrators, said he did not know of the decision until 2:45 p.m. yesterday.

"I am excited, happy and pleased," he said, adding that his goal isto be appointed chief.

"But for right now, I am just going to take this and run with it," he said.

Russell, who was head of the Technical Services Bureau, said Neall gave him no indication of whether he eventually would get the top job.

He said he plans to meet withthe department's command staff Monday to draft a plan to take the department into the next six months.

"We have a strong (drug) enforcement program and that's the name of the game," he said. "And we managed to get drug education into most of the schools."

The qualityof police service in the county will be a major priority, he said.

Faced with an executive order for a no-growth budget, Russell saidhe will be spending the next few weeks reviewing requests and learning the budget process.

Wellham, 63, retired as chief last Friday after meeting with Neall. He started with the department 43 years agowhen there were just two dozen officers and two stations.

He wasappointed to head the 550-member force by former County Executive O.James Lighthizer in 1986.

Neall met Monday with the department'scommand staff, interviewing each administrator individually.

Russell, a Gambrills resident, has served as deputy chief since 1984. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland and a master's from the University of Baltimore.

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