Howard County’s newly-elected sheriff and state’s attorney are looking to extend a helping hand to the county’s youth and become community leaders.
Both Democrats, sheriff-elect Marcus Harris, 50, and Rich Gibson, 42, the state’s attorney-elect, defeated their Republican opponents in the November election.
Gibson and Harris join County Executive-elect Calvin Ball as the first black men to be elected to their positions in Howard County’s history.
Harris said he plans to establish an educational mentoring program for children, while Gibson wants to be a voice about the dangers of drugs.
A lifelong Marylander, Harris grew up in Havre de Grace and has lived in Ellicott City for nearly 23 years.
Harris spent 15 years as a detective with Baltimore County Police, where he mostly did undercover work. Also an entrepreneur, Harris owns an in-home healthcare agency and a security firm, both based in Howard.
The sheriff's office provides courthouse security and prisoner transportation, handles domestic abuse cases, conducts patrols and serves warrants. Including the sheriff, Howard has 56 sworn deputies and nearly 20 civilian positions in the sheriff’s office, according to Bill McMahon, county sheriff.
Gibson, a 10-year resident of Ellicott City, began his legal career as a law clerk in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in 2003. He has also worked in Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s office and for the last 12 years as been an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore.
The state’s attorney’s office in Ellicott City has 33 attorneys and 43 support staff employees, according to Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for the office.
Focusing on Howard’s youth
Under Gibson’s lead, he wants the office’s attorneys to do more than just prosecute.
“We always are going to prosecute cases aggressively,” Gibson said. “I want us to strive for … addressing issues before criminal matters get out of hand and [people] become defendants.”
Gibson wants to address the dangers of abusing drugs, such as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
Gibson wants to be involved with the county schools, local youth groups and churches to “reach out to kids, to ensure they don’t become defendants in the first place.”
Gibson also wants to give presentations and have “candid conversations about what the devastating consequences could be for their actions.”
With no timeline yet, Gibson would like to begin working with youth within a year of taking office.
Harris wants to become a “great sheriff and community leader,” for Howard residents.
“I want to become a good community leader and I want to use my platform to help out less fortunate kids in Howard County,” Harris said.
By either working with an existing nonprofit or establishing one within the sheriff’s office, Harris wants to help Howard children excel in school.
The program would “help kids who don’t have anything and the kids who have a little something but don’t have the structure to afford to be tutored of have help with their homework after school,” Harris said.
Harris acknowledges there are mentoring programs in the county but he doesn’t “think the emphasis is strong enough.”
“I think we can do a better job in Howard County … with my platform I can bring more awareness to it,” Harris said.
At this time, Harris does not have any specifics on his plan but he said it will be a combination of creating a sheriff's mentoring program and working with existing ones.
Gibson plans to to get a handle on the prosecutor’s office and create a more user-friendly state’s attorney website.
Gibson defeated Kim Yon Oldham, the deputy state’s attorney, for the top prosecutor seat in November.
Oldham did not return a request for comment.
State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino is retiring in January. In 2014, Gibson lost to Broccolino in the primary.
Gibson said he wants to tackle drugs with adults, as well, by working with those who suffer with addiction and incentivizing rehabilitation instead of conviction.
“If you’re someone we can work with, we will do everything in our power to work with you,” Gibson said.
When asked if he will look to increase the number of minorities and women in leadership, Gibson said “absolutely.”
The state's attorney’s workforce “should reflect the community it serves,” Gibson said.
Beside treating Howard community residents fairly, Gibson wants to the same with his employees.
“I want to make sure women are paid the same amount as men for the same level of experience,” he said.
Harris unseated McMahon, a former county police chief who was appointed to sheriff two years ago.
“I want to make sure we have a unified department ... it stems from what happened two years ago” Harris said.
Gov. Larry Hogan appointed McMahon in 2016 after then-Sheriff James Fitzgerald resigned following accusations he discriminated against a top lieutenant and berated other employees using racist language in a report by the county’s Office of Human Rights. Fitzgerald denied the claims.
McMahon has been working with Harris “since the night of the election to ensure him I will do everything I can to help him make this a smooth transition,” the outgoing sheriff said.
“My goal is to see him succeed … he won the election, he’s the county sheriff, McMahon said.
The only requirements to become sheriff are to be at least 25 years old and be a county resident, McMahon said. Optional training to help a new sheriff become acclimated is offered by the Maryland Sheriff’s Association.
McMahon said there is a big learning curve.
Big things ahead for Harris include, crafting the office’s yearly budget of nearly $8 million, renewing the sheriff office’s union contract, set to expire in June, and preparing for the new courthouse to be built in Columbia, replacing a nearly two-century old building in Ellicott City.
Harris will be sworn in Monday, while Gibson will become state’s attorney on Jan. 7.