Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. filed suit in county Circuit Court yesterday against the county executive and County Council, saying they overstepped their bounds by cutting the position of his chief assistant.
In a suit with statewide ramifications, the sheriff asks the court to order County Executive Robert R. Neall to reinstate the $47,740 position of undersheriff and fund it for the rest of the fiscal year.
The 10-page suit names Mr. Neall and the seven members of the NTC council as defendants. It claims that by cutting the job, county officials "are interfering unlawfully with the sheriff's authority to appoint a second-in-command."
County Attorney Judson Garrett said yesterday that the executive and council acted within their authority when they cut the position during the budget process.
If the court agrees with Mr. Pepersack, he said, Mr. Neall will lobby the General Assembly to amend state law and specify that the county has budgetary authority over the sheriff.
The undersheriff's position was a contractual post until the County Council made it part of the county merit system in 1991. The job means overseeing an office of roughly 30 employees, and requires "advanced skills, training and experience in law enforcement administration," according to the suit.
J. Patrick Ogle, who has held the position for the past year, is a former county police sergeant with 13 years' experience and holds a Master's degree in law enforcement, according to the suit.
The suit says that in the last week of April, after about four months of discussion with Mr. Neall's budget office, the sheriff learned the undersheriff position was being cut.
Also according to the suit, cutting the job and creating the $36,840 position of Management Assistant would mean a savings of only $10,900, but that no one ever asked the sheriff for ways to save that amount during previous discussions.
"Rather, the county executive made the cut unilaterally, " the suit alleges.
Mr. Ogle was laid off as undersheriff July 9 and appointed to one of the two chief deputy slots in the office. While he continues to perform the same duties, chief deputies earn about $5,000 less, according to county budget records.
The case has statewide ramifications because it raises the question of who controls state agencies funded by local jurisdictions.
Mark Woodard, assistant executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said bills were introduced in the last two General Assembly sessions that would have required the state to finance county agencies established by the state constitution, such as sheriff's departments, state's attorneys and boards of elections.
The bills failed in the face of concerns about costs to a financially strapped state, but the issue remains a concern for county officials, he said.
"It's been an issue because counties have no managerial or administrative control over these offices, but must fund them. It's not an equitable situation," he said.