In November 1991, Richard Hall, a Baltimore County firefighter, was charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine and suspended without pay until his trial.
He later pleaded guilty to that charge and remains off the payroll. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Last week, two county employees -- a supervisor in recreation and parks, and the head of the personnel records section -- were charged with manufacturing and possessing 19 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute. They remain on the payroll, on condition that they undergo drug counseling through the county's Office of Substance Abuse.
The decision to allow Walter and Jo Anne Kincer to continue working has upset some county workers and raised eyebrows among some union officials. They say it appears to contradict the county's strong policy against drug abuse, and the past practice of suspending workers charged with serious crimes.
"I definitely think there's a mixed message there," said Ed Veit, president of Teachers Association for Baltimore County (TABCO). "If that were a student, that student is gone, expelled. He can't finish day school."
Lt. Tim Caslin, head of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said police officers have asked him why the Kincers were not suspended.
"It was a surprise to us that they were not suspended," he said. "The cops say, 'If it was us, we would be suspended without pay.' "
Police officers charged with felonies are suspended without pay, pending the outcome of their trials, county police spokesman E. Jay Miller said. Teachers and firefighters charged with felonies also are routinely suspended without pay, spokesmen for those agencies said.
But Mrs. Kincer, who heads the personnel records department, and Mr. Kincer, a recreation and parks supervisor, work under different rules. Under those rules, workers are suspended when charged with crimes that would bring the county into "disrepute."
During a search of the Kincer home in Parkton, police allegedly found 31 marijuana plants growing in a backyard greenhouse and packaged marijuana in two freezers.
Merreen E. Kelly, the county administrative officer, and Richard N. Holloway, director of personnel, made the decision in the Kincers' case. They defended their decision by saying that the rules are "discretionary" and that their decision is in line with the county's drug policy.
"Not every employee who is arrested and charged with a crime is suspended," said Mr. Holloway. "It's a subjective analysis."
He said the county's drug policy "played a big part in the decision. It broadly says that the county will work along with them to get treatment, and that's what is happening in this case."
The drug policy, which requires drug tests of new employees, advocates compassion for county employees who have drug or alcohol problems, said Mike Gimbel, head of the county's Office of Substance Abuse.
"The drug policy is primarily aimed at rehabilitation," he said.
If found not guilty of drug or other charges, suspended employees are reinstated and receive back pay.
Ed Petrick, head of Local 921 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said that although his membership has complained about the Kincer case, the decision is in accordance with the results of three recent grievance hearings.
In the last six months, three members of his union have been charged with crimes, one with shoplifting and two with narcotics violations. All were initially suspended without pay, but were reinstated after grievance proceedings.
"It's a good thing to not suspend someone who is waiting for trial," said Mr. Petrick. "The big difference is my guys were all charged with minor crimes and minor arrests."
But in the future, Mr. Petrick said, "If one of my guys gets caught in the same situation [as the Kincers], I expect the same thing for us."