The Baltimore County Fire Department Chief Officers Association, a group of 39 supervisors, has voted to endorse Republican Roger B. Hayden for county executive, turning against incumbent Dennis F. Rasmussen in his bid for re-election.
Battalion Chief Carroll W. Huffines Jr., chairman of the group, said there was but one vote for Rasmussen when the group's political action committee chose a candidate to back in the general election. He said not all of the chiefs attended the meeting, adding that he could not remember the specific vote. The vote was 22-1, according to other sources.
The vote is unusual since the county firefighters union, representing the 1,100 rank-and-file workers up to the rank of captain, has been Rasmussen's strongest political supporter among county employees since his first campaign for office in 1986.
The firefighters have donated hundreds of hours of time doing political work for Rasmussen, and remain strong supporters. John J. Hohman, president of Local 1311 of the firefighters union, said both his members and the chiefs have received pay raises averaging 28 percent over the past four years. In view of that, he said, the chiefs' complaints are "extremely puzzling to me. The problem is they have been given everything we have been given, but they want more."
It is also unusual for a group of county workers to openly oppose a sitting executive who is favored to be re-elected to a new four-year term.
Huffines said the chiefs, however, have felt that they have been ignored, and treated poorly by the administration, on issues ranging from night pay differential to holiday policy.
Rasmussen said he believes the chiefs "have been treated extremely well. Generally, it's [the Hayden endorsement] an expression that they were unhappy about our refusal to grant them excessive pay increases. The issue really comes back to dollars."
Huffines said that until recently chiefs working nights got $1 per night less pay differential than the firefighters under them, a situation that he said would cost very few dollars to change. He said it was more a point of professional pride and symbolic of the treatment of chiefs as supervisors than a money issue. Chiefs now make the same night differential as firefighters, Huffines said.
The night pay grated all the more, Huffines said, in view of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the executive spent on relandscaping the courthouse lawn, remodeling his own and County Council offices and on other outlays for what Huffines called "personal aggrandizement."
Huffines said the chiefs are also angry that they must take a personal leave day on county holidays when the headquarters offices are closed and they can't work, instead of getting a paid holiday. He charged that Rasmussen compressed their pay scale, also, reducing from three grades to two the difference between the chiefs' pay and the rank-and-file firefighters'. "He expects more from us and he's taking away from us at the same time," Huffines said.
Despite Hayden's support for tax and spending cuts, Huffines said he is convinced that he would never cut essential public safety services such as fire and paramedic units.
"He told us that people will pay for what is needed, but not for personal aggrandizement," he said of Hayden's stand on government spending. He said that taxpayers do not mind paying a penny more property tax if it goes to pay for an emergency medical unit, but don't want to see that money go for shrubbery.