Police controversy to get public airing Some 10 bills to sort through HARFORD COUNTY

September 05, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

A public hearing Wednesday evening is expected to draw advocates from all sides of the issue of stripping the sheriff's office of its public safety authority.

The County Council hearing will provide the first opportunity for the public to comment since some 10 bills were introduced at a council meeting last month.

The major piece of legislation proposed by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann would create a new countywide police department to be run by an appointed chief, accountable to the county executive, and a corrections department with a warden as head.

In addition, the legislation would transfer emergency communications from the sheriff's office to the county's planned Emergency Operations Center.

The sheriff's office would be relegated to providing courthouse security and serving court papers.

The most controversial part of the reorganization plan may be the replacement of an elected sheriff with an appointed police chief as the head of law enforcement in the county.

"This is the basic decision we have to make," said Councilman Barry Glassman, who introduced two of the 10 bills in council.

"We have to be sure not to cloud this debate with discussion of the present sheriff," the District D Republican said of the hearing. "The issue here is the office, not the performance of one person."

Some council members have introduced alternatives to Mrs. Rehrmann's proposal, including options to delay a decision on the police department.

One proposal before the council would create a commission to study public safety issues and not report its findings until spring.

Another bill would establish a police department through an amendment to the county charter. Any proposed charter amendment requires the question be brought to referendum in the next general election.

If the council approves that bill -- effectively letting the public vote in November 1994 whether it wants a new police department -- the lawmakers could still act on the rest of the

legislation, including making Detention Center changes.

The potential cost of the reorganization has stirred debate since the topic surfaced in the spring and it may dominate Wednesday's hearing as well, says Councilman Robert S. Wagner.

"Some people have no idea what the cost will be," said the District E Republican, who has openly opposed diminishing the sheriff's office and fears that the transitional costs will be well above the county executive's estimate of $279,000.

The council has asked its auditor, Michael Treherne, to review the costs of the transition, but he said that the results of his study will not be reported by Wednesday's hearing.

"There is a segment of the population we really need to hear from, and that is Joe Taxpayer," said Mr. Wagner.

"I hope there is standing room only at the hearing because they are the ones that need to decide."

Mr. Wagner co-authored a bill that would put the decision in the voters' hands in the 1994 election.

The hearing is to be held in the auditorium of C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air and is to start at 6 p.m.

The council must vote on the legislation by Oct. 12.

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