Inspector Javert at the Arundel Center Anne Arundel County: John Gary's obsession with pension 'conspiracy' is self-defeating.

September 27, 1996

IS JOHN G. GARY Anne Arundel County's version of Inspector Javert, the relentless policeman in Victor Hugo's novel, "Les Miserables"? The county executive's dogged efforts to unearth a criminal conspiracy beneath the 1989 passage of a generous pension bill for 93 elected and appointed officials certainly leaves that impression.

In the novel, Javert becomes obsessed with catching Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who had been jailed for stealing a loaf of bread.

Mr. Gary seems equally fixated on unearthing evidence to substantiate his hunch that top county officials deliberately misled the council about the fiscal repercussions of the pension revision seven years ago. He has hired private investigators and dispatched them to Florida in what has been a wild goose chase to date.

It is true that the 1989 bill gave a small group of appointed and elected officials pensions that are extremely generous. When Robert R. Neall succeeded O. James Lighthizer as county executive in 1990, Mr. Neall did nothing to change the retirement terms or benefits for these officials. In fact, the generous system was used as an inducement to attract competent department heads. Since the county could not pay salaries or provide benefits such as deferred compensation plans or stock options like private industry, the retirement plan was used to make the compensation package more competitive.

If indeed there was a criminal conspiracy, it would be reasonable to expect Mr. Neall to have pursued it -- for political reasons, if nothing else. He didn't. Nor did any other law enforcement agency -- local, state or federal -- that would have been eager to indict and convict white-collar criminals.

At this point in the county's history, Mr. Gary's preoccupation with this issue seems disproportionate to its importance. The courts have ruled the pensions can't be rescinded. They are a fact of life for Mr. Gary, just like the county's tax cap.

He did, however, correctly propose changes in the pension law to stanch the flow of excessive generosity to future retirees. Rather than waste more time and precious resources tracking down a conspiracy that may not exist, Mr. Gary should follow the advice of County Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans and "put the issue to rest."

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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