Howard County's longest-serving police chief, Wayne Livesay, will retire May 31 after more than eight years in command to devote himself full time to running for County Council, he said yesterday -- the same day he received a legal opinion saying he would have to resign to avoid violating federal law.
"I was up all night last night, because I knew today was coming. It's been a rough couple days [emotionally]. This has been my life," he said.
Livesay, 54, who joined the Howard force more than 34 years ago, said he had decided on his last day months ago but announced it shortly after receiving word from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel that he must resign by June 2 or be in violation of the Hatch Act, which bars political activity by federal employees.
According to the opinion, Livesay's signature on current federal grant applications and his supervision of their implementation means he is covered by the Hatch Act. He had requested the opinion shortly after filing his candidacy in February and had been hoping to take a leave of absence without violating the law.
Livesay is trying to win the District 5 County Council seat covering the western county. He is running against Greg Fox, 38, of Fulton and Jim Adams, 64, of Ellicott City.
"I'm sure nobody believes it, but I was planning to announce my retirement today anyway," Livesay said, adding that he informed County Executive James N. Robey of that date months ago. Livesay has had little time for campaigning, he said. His three-way September Republican primary is looming.
Robey, who preceded Livesay as Howard's police chief before retiring in 1998, said he will appoint an acting or interim chief, leaving a permanent decision to his successor in December. He would not reveal his choice for the interim job, saying, "I'm not going outside to search for some chief when I have six months to serve."
Most speculation centered on the two deputy chiefs, Maj. William J. McMahon, who is in charge of operations, and Maj. Gary Gardner, the administrative chief.
Livesay's decision to retire will cost him more than $200,000 in lost pension benefits, he said. But he will get a cash payment of $81,000 for accumulated unused leave time. Livesay earns $147,929 as chief. If he wins a council seat, he would earn $49,000 a year.
Looking back on his time as chief, he said his proudest accomplishments were providing new computer technology to police officers, his emphasis on community policing and reaching out to minority groups. He said he promoted three women to the rank of captain and named the department's first African-American captain.
James F. Fitzgerald, the police union president, praised Livesay as an innovator who is respected by patrol officers, and State's Attorney Tim McCrone called him "an honorable, straightforward team player."
Robey said Livesay told him "months ago" that he would retire May 31. Livesay offered to leave when he first declared his candidacy, but Robey asked him to stay through a departmental accreditation and the annual budget review. The County Council is to adopt a budget Wednesday.
Brian Harlin, chairman of the county Republican Party, has criticized Livesay for switching his party affiliation to Democrat in 2002 to back Robey's re-election, and then returning to the GOP to run for the council, and for advocating more gun control. Yesterday, Harlin said the resignation might not affect the contest.
Also yesterday, leaders of Muslim, African-American, Korean and Hispanic organizations praised Livesay's stewardship of the Police Department.
"We are very thankful and sorry to see him leaving his position. He was a wonderful, exceptional chief," said Anwer Hasan, president of the Maryland Muslim Council and a Howard resident. He said Robey and Livesay worked to protect local Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks stirred public anger.
Other leaders made similar comments.
"I think he's been a great chief. His style of leadership is forming partnerships in the community," said the Rev. Robert A. Turner of St. John Baptist Church and president of the African American Coalition of Howard County.
Sue Song, president of the Korean American Community Association, said Livesay "tried very hard to bridge the gap for cultural and language barriers. He went out of his way to recruit bilingual staff."
Murray Simon, president of Connexiones, a Hispanic advocacy group, said, "The Hispanic community in general had respect for him and what he's doing."