Sheriff foes trade shots in rematch

September 08, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Whether he was wrangling with county officials over his budget, requesting a pay raise or writing letters to close a light rail station in Linthicum, Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. has made his share of headlines in the past four years.

He also has attended just about every fund-raiser, political event and civic gathering possible as he campaigns for re-election to the $42,000-a-year job.

"My saying is, if you can draw a crowd I'll be there," said Mr. Pepersack, 53, who upset Democratic incumbent William R. Huggins four years ago.

In Tuesday's Republican primary, Mr. Pepersack faces John E. Moran IV of Pasadena, the 30-year-old deputy with the Baltimore City Sheriff's office and former Anne Arundel County deputy he defeated in the same race in 1990.

The winner will run against Democrat George Johnson IV, a 22-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County police force and commander of the department's robbery unit, who has no primary opposition.

The county sheriff oversees a $2 million budget and a staff of 42 full-time and 39 part-time employees. They provide courthouse security, transport prisoners from jail, and serve warrants and other court papers.

Supporters say Sheriff Pepersack, a retired state police sergeant, has improved the image of the office and instilled his deputies with a sense of professionalism.

He has computerized record-keeping to better track arrest warrants, hired dozens of part-time deputies to cut back on overtime, initiated a "most wanted" program to apprehend fugitives, and written an inch-thick operations manual that spells out each deputy's duties and responsibilities.

"My predecessor ruled by intimidation and fear. I rule by rules and regulations," he said.

However, he has angered county officials by asking for more money to cover department expenses in the last quarter of three budget years since he has been in office. He requested $80,000 in 1991, $125,000 in 1992 and $83,510 last May, according to the county budget office.

County Executive Robert R. Neall, another Republican elected in 1990, said he has been "sorely disappointed" with the sheriff's ability to manage public funds.

"He's shown very little, if any, regard for fiscal responsibility," Mr. Neall said.

But Mr. Pepersack insists he needed the money to run an effective operation.

"I am not responsible to Mr. Neall. I am not responsible to the County Council. I am responsible to the voters of Anne Arundel County," he argued.

Other critics say Mr. Pepersack has made his share of political mistakes. Last January, he asked state lawmakers for a 50 percent pay raise. He sent a deputy to the Board of Elections to review County Council members' campaign finance statements and assigned deputies to direct traffic at a July 4 fund-raiser for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Brock.

"I think he's blown an opportunity to really entrench himself in that office, said state Sen. Michael Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat.

Mr. Pepersack conceded in an interview that he should have asked state Republicans to reimburse the county for the cost of the deputies assigned to Mr. Brock's fund-raiser. And he said that a subordinate, Undersheriff Pat Ogle, dispatched an assistant to review council members' finance statements, but that he accepted responsibility and regrets the incident.

But he argued that the pay increase would raise the status of the sheriff's office to that of the county's other full-time elective offices, which pay more. The county executive earns $78,000. The state's attorney earns $88,999.

"In this society, how are you judged?" he asked. "You're judged by how much you make. That's the real world."

But it was the pay-raise request that turned people off, Mr. Moran said.

"Everybody knows who he is, but they're not going to vote for him," said Mr. Moran, who was an Anne Arundel deputy from 1987 to 1990.

Mr. Moran said he knocks on doors and passes out his fliers and campaign signs each night after work because he wants to straighten out a mismanaged sheriff's office.

"He (Sheriff Pepersack) was elected by voters who expected him to be conservative, and then it turned out he wasn't conservative. He overspent," Mr. Moran said.

Mr. Moran said he would abolish the position of undersheriff created by the incumbent, and revamp a command structure he said is top-heavy with supervisors.

Mr. Moran also would assign a team of deputies to clear the backlog of warrants served to parents delinquent with child support and would abolish the part-timer deputy program. "I just don't think they (the part-timers) have enough training," he said.

Judging by the traditional barometers, Mr. Moran is a long shot. He lost to Mr. Pepersack once already, is the lesser-known, younger and less-experienced candidate and has raised considerably less campaign money than Sheriff Pepersack.

According to the campaign finance reports filed Sept. 2, the sheriff has raised $42,889 to Mr. Moran's $3,437.

But Mr. Moran says the issue that matters most is the sheriff's record, which he says has soured those who put him in office. "I think he's the long shot candidate," he said.

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