Amprey's bodyguard gets promotion Move comes amid allegations of favoritism in school police force

February 20, 1997|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's bodyguard and chauffeur, a school police officer, has been promoted to sergeant in a move that some colleagues contend was unusual and unfair.

The veteran officer has advanced amid allegations of favoritism in the school police force, and an announcement that its chief will soon lose her job.

School officials confirmed yesterday that a sergeant's position has been created for Officer Ralph Askins, who vied unsuccessfully for promotion in December.

The December promotions were challenged, rescinded and redone in a controversy that has led to the ouster of school police Chief Linda Flood Willis, who will defend her record today during a closed personnel hearing of the city school board.

Willis did not choose Askins for promotion in December. Her supporters in the department have said that decision is among the reasons administrators will not renew her $30,000 annual contract, which will expire in the next two weeks.

School officials confirmed Friday that her contract will not be renewed.

Willis has appealed the decision to the school board.

"What we have here is a [spitting] match between Dr. Amprey and Chief Willis," said Officer Gary Holifield, area vice president for the City Union of Baltimore, which represents the 87 members of the school police force.

Yesterday, union officials called on Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to intervene and to renew Willis' contract.

By letting the chief's contract lapse and by granting the promotion to his "executive protection" officer, Amprey is settling scores and rewarding loyalists during his final months at the helm of a troubled administration, say Willis' supporters.

They contend that Willis is being pushed out because she has clashed with Amprey over management of the force since taking the post in 1995, and, most recently, over the promotions.

School officials say the decision is related to her handling of the promotions, and concerns about the rumored favoritism -- not Askins' case.

In December, 32 candidates sought 10 vacancies created by early retirements.

Willis promoted 10 officers who had passed the sergeant's exam and done well on interviews conducted by a panel of school police and housing authority officers. The panel ranked the candidates.

Willis did not promote candidate Askins, a 22-year school police veteran who has been assigned to Amprey for six years.

Amid complaints by disgruntled officers who were not promoted, Amprey rescinded the 10 promotions last month. He ordered Willis to repeat the selection process.

Later, those demoted filed a lawsuit seeking reinstatement.

Some of the unsuccessful candidates alleged the promotions had been predetermined. Some claimed the chief had ordered badges and uniforms, and promised promotions to some officers before the tests and interviews were conducted.

Also, at least one candidate alleged that to curry favor, he had run errands for Willis, such as ferrying uniforms to dry cleaners and moving a barbecue grill for a party attended by officers. Willis' supporters in the department said officers who have helped each other and supervisors have acted voluntarily.

Willis declined to comment.

The new screening panel created at Amprey's request ultimately recommended promotions for the same 10 officers chosen by Willis -- and Askins, for whom the school administration created an 11th position.

Yesterday, Askins said he earned the third-highest score on the test, but his total rank fell to 11th after the interviews.

"My record speaks for itself, but I am being made the scapegoat in an issue that really isn't about me," he said. "It's a personnel matter between Dr. Amprey and Chief Willis."

Amprey said, "I would never make a decision about somebody's qualifications for a job based on how closely they work with me."

His decision to repeat the interview process "has to do with procedures, around how the process was done," he said. He wanted school personnel executives involved to ensure fairness, said. Officers said they have not overseen police promotions in the past.

Willis retired in 1995 from the city Police Department as commander of the Southwestern District to take the helm at the school police force.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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