Local Bill + Local Support = Veto?

June 16, 1994

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has thumbed his nose at the will of the people of Harford County, with the unexpected veto of a broadly supported measure to give limited civil service job security for sheriff's deputies, who provide law enforcement for the county.

The bill was endorsed by the county executive, the sheriff, the County Council and the Harford legislative delegation. It was passed by the General Assembly without serious controversy.

The governor claims that the measure did not define "just cause" for firings, or provide for an appeals process. He asserts that the bill's loopholes would not allow for due process. And the bill didn't cover sanctions other than dismissal, he argues.

While some people felt the bill could have been more detailed and offered more extensive protections, these objections were never raised as a reason to kill this important measure for Harford County. In fact, Mr. Schaefer's primary opposition to the bill seems to be that it doesn't copy the state police officer bill of rights.

The lame-duck governor's veto has already had local political repercussions. Sheriff Robert E. Comes accuses County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann of privately lobbying the governor to kill the measure. Her reason, the sheriff claims, is to keep alive the issue of deputy job insecurity in the November election, when Harford voters will decide whether to keep law enforcement with the sheriff or create a county police force. Mrs. Rehrmann, who has a good working relationship with Mr. Schaefer, denies the sheriff's charges.

In fact, similar bills to provide job security for Harford sheriff deputies had failed in three straight legislative sessions, presumably because of opposition from Sen. Habern Freeman, a former Harford county executive, who felt it unnecessary. Mr. Comes also had insisted it was not needed because no deputy had ever been fired for other than just cause. But the sheriff deputies' organization maintained that the protection was important, if only because the threat of removal existed when officers took opposing sides in the sheriff's election.

We hope the next governor looks more favorably on local bills with local solutions to good-government issues, especially where the matter has received broad support and extensive public discussion. No Harford deputy need fear firing for unjust cause this election year, given vocal support for the merit system by all sides, but the principle still needs to gain the imprimatur of state law.

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