Baltimore County needs a consistent policy for dealing with its employees who are charged with drug possession and other serious crimes. That much has been made clear by the case of a Parkton couple who are county officials charged with manufacturing and possessing 19 pounds of marijuana.
Officials of County Executive Roger B. Hayden's administration have decided the couple can keep their well-paid jobs while they receive treatment. As a result, county workers and union leaders are seeing red. They say a police officer, a firefighter or a teacher caught with a small amount of an illegal substance -- let alone 19 pounds of marijuana! -- would be immediately suspended without pay by the heads of their respective county departments.
Similarly harsh rules once applied to county public school students. Until last year, a student found to be using drugs was permanently expelled. The policy was softened so offenders could be considered for re-admission to day classes after undergoing treatment and attending night school.
What upsets many county workers is that the Parkton couple appeared to escape suspension because they're higher-ups, though they might still be tried in court.
Yet administration officials say the handling of the case jibes with the county's philosophy of treating the substance abuse problems of government workers (that is, workers not employed by the police, fire and education departments). Each case is examined as it comes up and the punishment is tailored to the offense, the officials say.
If, for example, an employee with a good record slips for the first time, the punishment might be as light as forced treatment. But someone committing a second or third offense might face suspension and loss of pay.
Few would fault such a policy. However, government employees must also abide by a rule stipulating they be suspended when charged with crimes that would put the county into "disrepute." Granted, one person's disrepute is another person's shot on "Oprah," but it's a safe bet the county is made to look pretty disreputable when two of its officials are charged with the significant offense of building a back-yard marijuana factory. Why, then, hasn't the Parkton couple been suspended?
The county should develop one set of disciplinary guidelines for all employees charged with serious crimes, regardless of department or job title. That would help to prevent a recurrence of the bad feelings sparked by this recent case.