The Harford sheriff, hoping to sway public sentiment against proposed legislation that would greatly limit his authority, suffered a blow Monday night when members of the deputies' union announced the group's endorsement of a county police force.
The announcement stemmed from a vote nearly three weeks ago by 75 of 99 members of the Deputy Sheriff's Union Local 838, who backed the restructuring of policing duties in the county.
The deputies were asked to vote on whether they supported the sheriff's office in its current form or the creation of a county police force.
Michael Marshall, a Baltimore lawyer and union counsel, and DFC John J. Miner, president of Deputy Sheriff's Union Local 838, spoke at the public hearing Monday and later elaborated on why a countywide police force is needed in Harford.
Both say that, from a deputy's perspective, the main issue is not accountability, as County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has stated. Neither is it the needless expenditure of taxpayers' money, as the sheriff contends -- a reference to the $400,000 paid to the family of a Delaware man found dead in the Detention Center last year.
No one has been charged in that case, but an investigation continues.
The union representatives say politics within the sheriff's office are the main problem.
Problems for a deputy surface every four years, before and after an election, they said. If a deputy supports a candidate who wins, everything is fine.
"But if his candidate loses, there's turmoil for another half a year," says Mr. Marshall.
The union, Mr. Marshall adds, is "not out to get the sheriff %J [Robert E. Comes]" or "oppose Eileen M. Rehrmann. It's the system the deputies oppose."
Deputy Miner says there is too much pressure on deputies every election year.
"We should be concentrating on doing our jobs and not have to worry if a decision we make will lose a vote for the sheriff," he says.
Deputy Miner also noted that some deputies fear retaliation in assignments and duties.
"I don't think it would come from Sheriff Comes, but his command staff might do something, thinking it may help the sheriff," he says.
At a Tuesday morning news conference, Sheriff Comes did not (( address the issue of the deputies' support of a county police force.
He called the political issue "total nonsense," saying that in his 33 years with the sheriff's office, he never witnessed a deputy being dismissed for political reasons.
"Mrs. Rehrmann fired more people for their political affiliations in her first month in office than have been fired in the history of the Harford County Sheriff's Office," he declared.