Council pinned down by questions over badges worn by officers at jail BALTIMORE COUNTY

February 26, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Council is stuck on badges.

Detention Center officers' badges to be specific -- The five-pointed kind that say "Sheriff's Dept."

As they opened debate this week on County Executive Roger B. Hayden's plan to snatch control of the county jail back from the Sheriff's Department, council members spent much of their time peppering the administration with questions about how much it would cost to replace the guards' badges with something more appropriate.

By the time the often hostile questioning was over, however, it wasn't clear whether council members were worried about badges, were leery of the jail bill itself, or were just nursing wounds from being shut out of deliberations on the layoffs and budget cuts Mr. Hayden announced Feb. 11.

And it was equally unclear whether Mr. Hayden will have the five votes he needs to approve the jail bill as emergency legislation Monday night.

Catonsville Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, said yesterday that she will vote against the bill, while William A. Howard 4th, R-6th, who represents Fullerton-Overlea, and Pikesville's Melvin Mintz, D-2nd, said they haven't made up their minds.

"I've been asking a lot of questions lately, that I haven't been getting answers to," Mr. Howard said yesterday. Both he and Mrs. Manley said they wondered if Mr. Hayden had another motive for wanting control of the jail -- one he's not sharing with them.

Essex Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5th, sympathized with Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack, who complained that he had not been consulted by Mr. Hayden before the executive decided to take back the jail -- one of the sheriff's main responsibilities.

"That's a problem [not being consulted] all of us are having," Mr. Gardina said.

Mr. Pepersack offered no testimony to the council.

The administration bill needs five of the seven council votes instead of the usual four because Mr. Hayden wants to take immediate control of the jail system instead of waiting the 45 days before a normal bill takes effect.

The badge issue wouldn't go away, popping up again and again during the debate.

"How much is it going to cost to get new badges and change the heading on the jail's forms?" Mr. Howard wanted to know.

Merreen E. Kelly, the county's administrative officer, shrugged off the badge question, saying he didn't know how much they cost. But he said the overall changeover costs would be $H "insignificant." He suggested that badges weren't needed anyway, since the officers have uniforms.

James Dougherty, owner of the Irvin Hahn Co., which manufactures badges, said new ones cost $35 to $55 each, depending on the quality. So it would cost between $6,125 and $9,625 to buy new badges for all 175 corrections officers. When the new addition to the main Detention Center opens in late 1994, 125 more could be needed.

Mr. Kelly said the county executive merely wants control over as much of the county budget as he can get.

By the time the 216-bed Detention Center addition opens in 1994, Mr. Kelly said, the jail system will represent the county's sixth largest expense. But use of that money is currently controlled by the sheriff -- an independently elected state official.

Mr. Kelly noted that Anne Arundel, Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties all control their own jail systems. The state runs and pays for the city jail.

The county government controlled the jail for many years, but ceded it to the Sheriff's Department in 1979 when the Police Department decided it didn't want to run the jail any more.

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