New sheriff wants a law allowing him to choose his deputy

January 13, 1995|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

After barely a month in office, county Sheriff George F. Johnson is lobbying state legislators for a measure that would allow him to fire his predecessor's top deputy and choose his own .

Patrick Ogle, the undersheriff, was hired as a contractual employee by Robert G. Pepersack Sr. when he became sheriff in 1990. Mr. Ogle was made a merit system employee in 1993 to help settle a dispute involving Mr. Pepersack, Robert R. Neall, then the county executive, and the County Council over the former sheriff's spending.

Because Mr. Ogle is protected by the county merit system, Sheriff Johnson cannot replace Mr. Ogle with his own top assistant.

The legislation Mr. Johnson has requested would allow him and future sheriffs to choose their assistants.

"I want the benefit of appointing someone who shares my management philosophies," Sheriff Johnson said yesterday. "The job would be brought under the state system. This is being done across the state in sheriff's departments."

Mr. Ogle, who would not comment on the proposed change, supported Mr. Pepersack, a Republican, in the last election.

After Sheriff Johnson took office, Mr. Ogle was assigned to a courthouse detail supervising three civilian employees, Mr. Pepersack said Wednesday.

Sheriff Johnson, a Democrat, said the switch has nothing to do with politics.

Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, agreed. "I don't think this is overly politically motivated," he said. "The sheriff should have the ability to appoint his own person."

"Every manager wants to have the ability to bring in their own people," said Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Annapolis Republican and head of the county delegation. He said he has talked briefly with Sheriff Johnson about the change and that the state Sheriffs' Association is drafting legislation.

Mr. Pepersack said he never wanted the undersheriff position to be a merit one.

"I wanted it to be one that serves at my pleasure, so that future sheriffs like Mr. Johnson would be able to make his appointment," he said. "But the county did not want to do that."

The job became a merit position after a series of disputes between Mr. Pepersack and Mr. Neall. Mr. Pepersack overspent his budgets in 1991 and 1992 and asked the County Council for additional money.

In 1992, the council cut the sheriff's office budget and eliminated the undersheriff's job in an effort to rein in Mr. Pepersack. The sheriff sued in Circuit Court, arguing that the council had no authority to cut his budget because he was an elected official.

They settled their differences when Mr. Pepersack agreed not to overspend and Mr. Neall agreed on budget increases. Mr. Neall left the undersheriff's position intact but made the job a merit position, taking away the sheriff's authority to appoint someone to it.

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