Gary broke ethics laws Commission finds campaign violations by former executive

'Abuse of public employees'

Police participating in his photo shoots were still on duty

December 11, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Former Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary broke county ethics laws when he asked police officers to pose next to him in photographs he used in his campaign brochures, according to a county Ethics Commission report released yesterday.

County law does not give the seven-member volunteer committee the power to fine or imprison offenders. But the commission's executive director, Betsy K. Dawson, said the written opinion is meant to warn future administrations that the law prohibits using county employees in political campaigns.

"This is an abuse of public employees," said Kathleen S. Skullney, director of Common Cause/Maryland, a political watchdog organization. "This does serious damage to the public's trust, not only in the county executive's office but in the police, as well."

County Executive Janet S. Owens, who defeated Gary in the Nov. 3 election, repeatedly complained during her campaign that her opponent was misusing county police officers in his literature that bragged about his crime-fighting programs.

In one campaign photograph, Gary stands in the doorway of a county resident's home, chatting with the homeowner as two uniformed officers stand behind him.

The text of the literature proclaimed that Gary cared about public safety because he had hired 100 police officers, built a new jail and courthouse.

Owens said yesterday that she had not read the ethics commission report, but that she wants all of her employees to obey the county's ethics code.

"I expect county employees to conform to the highest ethical standards," Owens said.

Gary said that he never intended to violate the county's ethics laws. He said his campaign staff set up the photographs and that when he arrived at the photo shoots, he had assumed all the officers were volunteering their services while off duty.

The officers were working either their normal work shifts or county-paid overtime shifts, according to the ethics commission report.

"If what we did violated ethics laws, so did the campaigns of many other elected officials who used photos of officers to boast about reducing crime," Gary said. "I'm sorry if it offended anybody."

Former Police Chief Larry W. Tolliver, who was removed by Owens, said he asked for the ethics commission opinion to ensure the department was following the law.

Tolliver said he asked the commission to provide ethics training for his officers before he left office Dec. 4.

"I didn't think there was a problem with the photographs," he said. "I think my police officers act honorably."

Sgt. Larry Walker, a 29-year-veteran who heads the department's helicopter unit, said he had no idea a photograph of himself standing next to Gary would be used in a political advertisement.

He said he was irritated nobody asked his permission. According to the ethics report, Gary asked the police chief for officers to appear in a photo shoot. Supervisors in the police chief's office called certain officers and asked them to appear in uniform.

The ethics commission report also said that a police officer baked a cake for a department picnic last summer with a campaign slogan written in frosting: "A vote for John Gary is a vote for Chief Tolliver."

The commission concluded that this did not rise to the level of an ethics violation.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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