Howard County Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo says he's bringing professionalism to a law enforcement agency that's been wracked by controversy and whose previous heads include a shoemaker and a real estate agent.
But some deputies grumble that Chiuchiolo's tendency to fill top positions with former police officers does not bode well for their careers, and that they can forget about ever being promoted.
Since taking office in December, the sheriff has hired a retired State Police trooper as his chief deputy, a retired county police corporal to fill a vacant sergeant's position and another retired county police officer as a deputy sheriff.
Chiuchiolo himself retired as a lieutenant from the county police department before running for sheriff last year.
Some deputies say privately that the sheriff is slighting them and hiring his police department pals. They say it has caused morale to sink once again after the cloud that hung over the sheriff's department during the administrative trial last winter of two deputies who eventually were fired for mimicking Nazi behavior.
"In the police department, you don't see them hiring sergeants off the street. It's all done from inside," complained one deputy.
The sheriff's deputies interviewed by The Evening Sun asked that their names not be published because they are non-merit system employees who serve at the sheriff's pleasure.
Another deputy said the new hires have angered a number of employees who believe that one of the two corporals or 17 deputies should have been promoted to the sergeant's position.
"People see what's going on," said another.
Another deputy, although troubled by the moves, said he thought that bringing in experienced former police officers would improve the department, which consists of 24 sworn officers.
"The man's a good sheriff," that deputy said after complaining about having to adjust to a new administration. "I think we're going to go up. We've never had a sheriff in here who makes managerial decisions. He's making a lot of decisions."
Chiuchiolo was frank and assertive as he justified bringing in a former police officer as sergeant, and explained why he may bring in yet another retired county police officer to fill a vacant lieutenant's post.
Sitting in his office in the county's old courthouse, he held a stack of papers that described the abilities of his deputies. He told them to fill out the forms after he became sheriff.
"Quite frankly, they [the deputies] didn't have the background I felt was needed to be in some of these positions," said Chiuchiolo, 50, who served 25 years in the county police department.
"One of the best resources for the sheriff's department is to have people who are a ripe age and have a good level of skill and maturity," he said. "There's no question that bringing people in from the outside was not an easy thing to do. But we have to bring in people who have supervisory skills."
Chiuchiolo has ridden a wave of popularity since last fall. He was the second-leading vote-getter in the November general election and received a flood of praise from the community after firing Maj. Donald Pruitt and Sgt. Dennis Pruitt on Feb. 6 for mimicking Nazi behavior on the job.
The Pruitts were the department's second- and third-ranking employees.
Chiuchiolo said he is using guidelines from his transition team's report to restructure a department that was in dire need of improvement and new blood.
"We brought in a sergeant from outside who had the kind of experience that nobody else had. Morale is always a concern, but I have to look at the big picture," he said. "I understand how people feel. I've been passed over before when I've been No. 1 on the list."
The sheriff said that he's willing to pay experienced police
officers top scale. Sgt. Randolph Roby, who was hired in July after retiring from his job as police corporal, is receiving $32,658 a year, and Robert Reid, a retired police officer first class, is making $29,579 as a deputy. Each is also drawing a pension.
"They sure are double-dippers and so am I," asserted Chiuchiolo, who draws an annual pension of about $25,000 in addition to his $38,000 salary.
But he said it's a bargain for Howard County to get a sheriff's department with experienced law enforcement officials, including himself, who don't have to spend months in training.
That didn't wash with a deputy who felt the department has enough talent to promote from within. He said that has been a topic of discussion since Roby was hired in July and again when Reid was hired last week.
Another said he wasn't concerned about the hires -- yet.
"If it continues, if it becomes more of a trend where every time there's an opening somebody from the police department is hired, then I think there will be some big problems here," he said.