Robert G. Pepersack Sr. had a rocky term as Anne Arundel County sheriff from 1990 to 1994. He overspent his budget, a jury found him liable for discriminating against a female deputy, and the state prosecutor concluded he committed misconduct by abusing criminal record checks.
Now Pepersack, a Republican, is running for the vacant 2nd District seat on the County Council. His opponent is throwing a spotlight on Pepersack's record, arguing that he does not deserve to return to county government.
"Here's a guy who was a law enforcement officer, and yet he thought he was above the law," said Democrat Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a 54-year-old accountant from Millersville.
Pepersack, a 57-year-old former state trooper from Glen Burnie, vigorously defends his term in office, saying that he never broke laws and that he rescued his office from financial chaos.
Pepersack said he won't sling mud -- as he said his opponent does -- and emphasizes his platform of "zero tolerance" crime-fighting and mediating disputes between the county government and school board.
"He says I'm above the law? How's that? I've lived the law longer than he's been on earth," said Pepersack. "I've never been convicted of so much as a traffic ticket."
The outcome of their battle Nov. 3 over the Glen Burnie seat on the council may help determine whether the Republicans maintain a 4-3 majority or whether the Democrats regain the control they enjoyed until the early 1990s.
Pepersack's supporters defend their candidate's record in office as being much better than his critics suggest, saying the complaints about the former sheriff are overblown.
"He has a lot of integrity," said Barbara Chapman, a bank employee. "If he overspent a little bit, it was in the name of fighting crime, which I approve of."
Klosterman, who served as the county's assistant auditor from 1975 to 1981, said his campaign isn't based entirely on keeping Pepersack out of office.
A 27-year Millersville resident who owns the accounting firm Klosterman and Associates, he says he believes that his years auditing the county's books gave him an inside look at the way county government works.
"As a county auditor, I was behind the scenes on all the important issues. And now there are a lot of important issues coming up before the County Council, and I think my experience can really help," Klosterman said.
His priorities as a councilman would include reducing the county's water and sewer rates, reducing the size of classes and renovating decaying schools.
Pepersack, a native of Baltimore, served as a state trooper from 1964 until 1990, when he won a four-year term as county sheriff. He was defeated by George Johnson, the current sheriff, in 1994.
During the early 1990s when the county was facing financial difficulty because of a recession, Pepersack infuriated some council members by overspending his 1992 fiscal year budget by $142,000, according to county records.
At one point, the council became so frustrated with Pepersack the members exercised their rarely used power to subpoena him to testify about his spending plan.
County auditor Joseph H. Novotny criticized Pepersack in a Dec. 15, 1992, memo for using the sheriff's petty cash fund to attend social mixers and retirement parties, buy flowers and hold a softball tournament.
Pepersack said he did nothing wrong with the petty cash fund, but admits that he overspent his budget his first two years in office. He said that the budget was in the black his last two years and that he turned around a sheriff's department that had a projected $185,000 deficit when he took office.
In November 1996, a U.S. District Court jury ordered Pepersack and his top deputy to pay $31,100 to a female deputy who had sued for gender discrimination.
Lt. Elizabeth E. Smith claimed in a 1995 suit that Pepersack took away her duties, passed her over for a promotion and "condoned" the misconduct of Undersheriff J. Patrick Ogle, who allegedly told her: "One of these days, you'll learn how to be a man and not whine and cry like a woman."
Ogle said yesterday that he never made that statement and defended the decision not to promote Smith, saying two other candidates were better qualified.
Pepersack said his office did nothing wrong, adding that the jury's decision to award Smith less than the $15 million she sought indicated it didn't think much of her case.
In February 1995, state Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli issued a report saying Pepersack had committed misconduct in office by ordering deputies to perform illegal criminal record checks of prospective tenants in three rental properties he owned.
"The fact that a chief law enforcement officer used his office for his personal benefit can have the effect of undermining the credibility and integrity of his agency," Montanarelli wrote.
Although the prosecutor did not file criminal charges against Pepersack, he wrote that Pepersack was guilty of a "questionable use of personnel and possible abuse of authority" in anther incident by ordering two deputies to deliver a summons to help his daughter collect $2,200 owed to her by a tenant.
Pepersack said that his use of the deputies was proper, because his daughter paid the same fee as any other person seeking to deliver a summons in a civil case. He also said that he felt compelled to conduct criminal record checks on his tenants, because the news media would criticize him if they discovered the sheriff was renting to a drug dealer.
"The bottom line was that no crime had been committed, and no TTC prosecution was made, period," Pepersack said.
Pub Date: 10/29/98