Sheriff Robert Pepersack says he will sue the county executive and County Council for cutting the position of his chief deputy.
Mr. Pepersack, who has been feuding for months with County Executive Robert R. Neall, said he plans to file the suit in Circuit Court early this week, alleging that the county officials overstepped their bounds in May when they cut the $47,740 position of undersheriff.
Patrick Ogle, the assistant who held that position, remains on the sheriff's payroll, having been rehired July 1 as a chief deputy at $36,850, Mr. Pepersack said.
The sheriff said Friday that his suit has implications beyond the budgeting of one position.
"The underlying issue here is how is this office going to operate," he said. "Am I going to be able to run it free of interference, or are there going to be unnecessary obstacles?"
The sheriff says that as an elected county official, he should have to negotiate his budget with the county executive and council, but he should then be allowed to spend the money as he sees fit.
Mr. Pepersack said during the budget process he was pointedly told that the undersheriff's position was being cut from his budget despite the reasons he outlined for it.
"There were not honest and good faith negotiations," he said. "We were told point-blank that the undersheriff's position was being cut."
He said that he regretted having to file the suit, but said that Mr. Neall and the council will not discuss reinstating the position.
"It's very regretable that it's come to this. It's the last thing I wanted to do," he said.
But county officials say that it is the sheriff who has overstepped his bounds. Earlier this year, council members publicly blasted the sheriff when he exceeded his budget and asked for more. They gave him $125,000 to remain in operation, but that was $79,000 less than Mr. Pepersack requested.
Mr. Neall and council members say the sheriff must specify his financial requirements like any other department head, adhere to those spending limits and answer to the council whenever the amount is exceeded.
Council Chairman David Boschert said Friday that the council has to be accountable for all public moneys spent, and that because of budget constraints, no county department was allocated every dollar it requested.
"Every department had to take a hit," he said. "From my perspective I feel we were very fair and equitable with the sheriff, in terms of the personnel that was requested and in terms of actual dollars to the department."
Judson Garrett Jr., county attorney, said that he was notified of the possible suit about a week ago, but declined comment because of the possibility of a settlement before it is filed.
Mr. Garrett said that if the county loses in Circuit Court, it would appeal. Another avenue, he said, would be to seek state legislation giving the county specific authority over the sheriff's budget.