Gary brochure showing workers called a violation Complaint says photos of police, firefighters against state rules

FOP head prominent in one

November 06, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Devon Spurgeon | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Laura Sullivan contributed to this article.

A John G. Gary campaign brochure featuring uniformed county police could be a violation of a state ruling barring government employees from engaging in politics while representing themselves as being on the job, according to a complaint sent to state and local ethics commissions.

The brochure, which was distributed late in the county executive's unsuccessful campaign, features three posed photographs. One is of two police officers walking with Gary, another is of a gun-wielding officer at a sobriety checkpoint and the third is of two police officers and two firefighters standing with Gary in front of a squad car, a police helicopter and a firetruck.

William Wild, president of the Anne Arundel County Fraternal Order of Police, is prominent in one of the pictures.

"At no time was I told that this was a campaign promotion," said Larry Walker, commander of the Anne Arundel County police helicopter unit, who appeared in the helicopter shot. "I was surprised that a photography session I thought would be used for publicity for Anne Arundel County government is now being used as a political advertisement."

Betsy Dawson, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission, would not say whether the commission is investigating the complaint, which came from a county employee who requested anonymity.

State laws allow government employees to participate in political activities, but state and county ethics laws state that "as the general rule, if you are on the job, you cannot participate in political activity," she said.

"You can't use the prestige, title or authority of your office or position for your own private gain or that of another person's," Dawson said.

Penalties for ethics violations range from a reprimand to a recommendation for termination or civil penalties in court, she said.

Police Department rules take the same stand, saying, "Employees will not authorize the use of their names, photographs or official titles which identify them as employees of the department in connection with the endorsement of political candidates or causes."

Gary and Police Chief Larry W. Tolliver could not be reached for comment yesterday. Lt. Jeff Kelly, a police spokesman, said that Gary had asked police for "some officers for a photo opportunity" but that Tolliver did not know the pictures would be used in campaign literature.

"We all work for him, so if he asks for a couple of officers, we'll get a couple of officers," Kelly said.

Kelly said he did not view the brochure pictures as endorsements. "They're not saying that we as police officers endorse the county executive," Kelly said.

"When Mr. Gary announced the opening of Western District substation and there were a dozen and a half uniformed officials and elected officials there, and a photographer takes a picture does that officer pose as an endorsement of the candidate? If that's not the case, then I don't see how they can be held for it" in the case of this brochure.

Chief John M. Scholz, spokesman for the Fire Department, said its rules say that fire officials may not prevent people from taking pictures of firefighters hosing down a fire or driving down the street and using them for such things as campaign brochures, but that county firefighters may not pose for pictures in uniform or with equipment for political events.

Scholz said the department is routinely flooded by requests from politicians and organizations hoping to use firefighting images on their brochures and literature.

Firefighters featured in the Gary brochure photographs are volunteers, not county firefighters.

"Our policy on this is, across the board, no," Scholz said. "And we never waver on it."

Police officers, who did not want their names printed for fear of retaliation, said several FOP members are incensed that their president was in the brochure because the FOP had made it clear that it was not making an endorsement.

"As a union official, it would have been incumbent on him to not appear in anything if the union was to remain neutral," one officer said. "To know Billy Wild and see him in photos with the county executive could be construed as a secret endorsement. If you saw Janet Owens in a picture with 50 teachers, would you get the impression that the teachers were in favor of her?"

Said Wild: "Given that there may be an investigation, I am going to decline to comment."

Pub Date: 11/06/98

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