Police, county worker unions back Democrat for executive

November 07, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

The presidents of the county police and blue-collar unions say they prefer Democratic challenger Susan B. Gray to incumbent County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Ms. Gray received news of the endorsements at her home Friday.

"I am really pleased to get this showing of support of the police department and of county workers," Ms. Gray said. "It is a real vote of confidence, and I hope I have the opportunity to serve them."

Mr. Ecker, a Republican seeking to become only the second executive in county history to win re-election, said that, although he was unaware of the endorsements, he was not surprised by them. He put a freeze on employee salaries the first two years of his administration as the county faced a worsening financial situation.

The Board of Directors of the Howard County Police Officers' Association had been debating the endorsement for two months and was divided until Thursday night, said James F. Fitzgerald, the association president.

In a printed statement signed by Mr. Fitzgerald, the association said Ms. Gray has pledged that, if elected, "she would review and redirect the resources of our police department to ensure that adequate police officers are patrolling all areas of the county."

There is a shortage of officers in the police department that will continue at least until next June, Mr. Fitzgerald said in his statement. Detectives and other officers not normally assigned to patrol duty have filled in, the statement said, but Ms. Gray has promised changes.

In addition, she would allow off-duty officers to work at shopping centers and would seek funds to replace police vehicles with more than 100,000 miles on them, the statement said.

Officer Fitzgerald would not elaborate on is statement.

Replacement of many county vehicles, including cruisers, was halted from 1991 to 1993 during the county's fiscal crisis. The current budget includes a five-year plan to purchase new cars.

Dale Chase, president of Local 3085 of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, said his executive board reached agreement on the endorsement of Ms. Gray Friday afternoon. Earlier, the state AFSCME endorsed Mr. Ecker, but the local is autonomous and is free to take a different course, Mr. Chase said.

Mr. Chase said the local is dissatisfied with what he called the "inaction" of mid- to upper-level managers in county government. "We tried to resolve it, but were not given a fair shake," he said. Mr. Chase declined to say what action the union wanted management to take.

The statement merely said that the reason for the executive board's endorsement of Ms. Gray was a "lack of action by the current administration to correct the many problems that currently exist with mid- to upper-level management personnel in the county."

Like Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Chase declined to explain the statement further.

The endorsements indicate that some county employees are still angry with Mr. Ecker about the way he dealt with the county's financial crisis his first two years in office. During that time, no one in county government other than school system employees received a pay raise. In addition, 40 employees were laid off the first year; and the second year all nonschool system employees were furloughed a week without pay during the December holidays.

Police and firefighters sought to avoid the furloughs, but Mr. Ecker insisted that his stringent budget-cutting measures applied to all nonschool system employees. County workers felt that Mr. Ecker could have avoided the furloughs if he had raised local income taxes.

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