Anne Arundel's Lone Ranger

May 18, 1992

The sinking sun silhouettes a lone figure in a Smokey Bear hat riding horseback across the College Creek bridge. The rider dismounts and strides up to the Arundel Center. A star of gold on his chest catches the sun. Folks in town scatter. "Tell the county government Bob Pepersack's here," the rider says. "This town ain't big enough for us both."

This seems to be the view of Mr. Pepersack, the Anne Arundel sheriff, toward county officials. When the county council subpoenaed him to answer questions about overspending his budget for a second year, the sheriff viewed it as an intrusion. He wouldn't have overspent had the council provided ample funds in the first place, he explained, which should win him a cash prize for originality.

After the council reluctantly agreed to transfer $125,000 to offset some of his deficit, Mr. Pepersack, uncontrite, said he would study the figures since he really wanted $184,000.

The Arundel council was also peeved the sheriff authorized the county print shop to compose a letterhead for a private, non-profit foundation Mr. Pepersack created to raise money for his department. Also: deputies were paid overtime to attend council hearings even as the sheriff complained of being short-staffed for courthouse security.

The freshman sheriff, grandson of Maryland's first state trooper, views the tumult on some grand historical plain. He even invokes the ghosts of the High Sheriffs of Saxon England and the 19th century frontier lawmen. When he returns from his time travels though, he'll find himself in the recessionary 1990s. That means making do with less and living within a tight budget, constraints Mr. Pepersack shouldn't reject as "just politics."

The sheriff has a limited role to perform -- transporting prisoners, serving legal papers, providing courthouse security. Robert Pepersack's brother, Norman, the elected sheriff in Baltimore County, had a run-in with his county's police chief over his attempts to expand his role. Sheriffs in Carroll, Harford and Calvert counties also have had feuds over the scope of their duties.

With their tasks greatly narrowed as the metropolitan area has grown, elected sheriffs are fast becoming outdated. Anne Arundel Executive Robert R. Neall suggests amending state law to allow home-rule jurisdictions to do away with elections for sheriffs if they wish. That has merit.

In the meantime, Robert Pepersack should stop viewing the sheriff's activities as a morality play between the black hats and the Lone Ranger. He's the one doing the ambushing, and he's the one acting as though he were above the law.

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