At first glance, Ken Tregoning and John Brown could almost be the same man.
Both have spent decades in law enforcement. Both have military service under their belts. Both are intimately familiar with Carroll County's criminal justice system. Both are against gun control.
And both want to be the county's sheriff.
But spend a minute -- no, about 20 seconds -- with each of them, and the differences between the Democratic challenger and the one-term Republican incumbent emerge.
Sheriff Brown, a gruff, cigarette-smoking, hand-shaking kind of guy, talks of his ability to turn money -- he claims some $600,000 or so this year alone -- back to the taxpayers. He mentions his department's success in tracking deadbeat parents who owe thousands in back child support. And he explains that his sheriff's department is a well-oiled machine that does what it is supposed to do -- serve court papers, house inmates and protect the courthouses -- exceedingly well.
"I've demanded accountability, and I've gotten proven results," the sheriff says from his Spartan linoleum-floored office. "I am sick and tired of waste in government, and that's why I'm running on a common sense ticket like I did four years ago."
First Lieutenant Tregoning -- who is now commander of the Golden Ring state police barracks in Baltimore County -- listens to the claims of his competitor for the job and shakes his head. Sheriff Brown gets cooperation through intimidation, his challenger says, and doesn't have any interest in long-term planning. And the financial austerity Sheriff Brown boasts of came about more through luck than through deliberate planning, Lieutenant Tregoning says.
"I have the leadership qualities that are necessary for the sheriff's department," Lieutenant Tregoning says. "I think I'm a respected leader."
Both men's stump speeches sound disarmingly similar: Neither proposes turning the 90-member department into a county police force, both claim they will save taxpayers money and both say they want to have a highly motivated and professionally satisfied work force.
But each of them says the other can't do the job.
Lieutenant Tregoning has been a member of the Maryland State Police for 26 years, 19 as a supervisor. He has been the commander of the Westminster barracks, and he ticks off a list of professional achievements and accolades from peers.
As sheriff, the Union Bridge resident says he would bring a sense of discipline and professionalism that he claims is lacking under the incumbent.
"You let people do their jobs, and ensure that they are doing their jobs right by walking around, talking, sharing and communicating with them," he says. "That's how you become effective."
He says the current sheriff's department suffers from low employee morale because of what he calls cronyism and favoritism on the part of Sheriff Brown.
He says -- and county budget records confirm -- that the sheriff's top employees enjoyed a more than 20 percent increase in their salaries over the last two years at a time when other county
employees received less than 5 percent raises.
"Is that fair?" he says.
Sheriff Brown maintains that he has hired "the best qualified" people for his top jobs, and that they deserve to be paid well. The warden -- hired this year after the job sat vacant for nearly two years -- will be replaced if Lieutenant Tregoning wins the election. The challenger also says he plans to fire the chief deputy, who was the acting warden before Sheriff Brown placed him in his current job.
Lieutenant Tregoning also says several employee disputes that have received media attention show suffering morale. In one case, a deputy who was fired for, in the words of an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge, an "absurd" reason, was given his job back and granted back pay.
Sheriff Brown, who was a member of the Baltimore City Police Department for 25 years before retiring in 1977, scoffs at the notion that employee morale is low.
"Would I get these kinds of results if morale was low?" he says, holding up his campaign brochure. "Look at what I'm getting out of these people. It's called productivity."
He ticks off a list of taxpayer money that he has saved. Child support collections, up from $2 million in 1990 and $4.7 million last year. Fees collected from work-release prisoners, $115,000 this year, up from $41,000 when he took office.
Lieutenant Tregoning says much of the increased collections from child support comes from the efforts of the state's NTC attorney's office and the increased money from work release comes from a state law that allowed the sheriff to double the amount of weekly "rent" collected from work-release participants.
As for the deputy fired for the "absurd" reason, Sheriff Brown says -- with a hint of pride in his voice -- that he found him a productive place as one of the two deputies tracking child
"If God sat in this chair, he wouldn't please everybody. I'm . . . proud of my record, and I'm not here to win any popularity contests."