Fired chief assails Owens Tolliver wants apology for comments from new Arundel executive

Double standard claimed

Use of police officers, teachers in campaigns results in dispute

December 31, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Former Anne Arundel County Police Chief Larry W. Tolliver lambasted yesterday the newly elected county executive who fired him this month, saying Janet S. Owens had "slandered" and "maligned" him by claiming he used his department for political purposes.

In her Dec. 4 announcement that she was replacing Tolliver with interim Police Chief Thomas Shanahan, Owens said that she was "really bothered" that photographs of uniformed county police officers had been used in the campaign literature of her opponent, John G. Gary.

"I have said several times that I really want to emphasize honesty and integrity in my administration," Owens said. During her campaign, she repeatedly stated that it is a violation of department rules for officers to appear in political ads while on duty.

The county's ethics commission issued an opinion Dec. 10 that Gary had abused his office by asking Tolliver to help him arrange the photographs of on-duty police officers standing with Gary.

In a letter to The Sun delivered yesterday, Tolliver said he did nothing wrong. He said he merely told his officers that Gary had called asking for volunteers who might be willing to appear in his campaign advertisements.

Tolliver also said he was a victim of a double standard, because Owens used photos of county teachers in her campaign advertisements.

"Mrs. Owens has every right to select her own police chief," said Tolliver. "She has no right, however, to malign me by insinuating that I subverted the law and by accusing me of misusing my office for political purposes."

Tolliver asked for Owens to apologize, noting that he had asked for the ethics commission opinion to make sure his department was acting properly.

Owens could not be reached for comment.

Her spokesman, Andrew C. Carpenter, said: "We support Mr. Tolliver's First Amendment right to speak his mind. But the county executive has no comment at all on it."

Whether Tolliver's argument would have had any impact on the ethics commission opinion is unclear. The seven-member panel said that Gary asking for "volunteers" from among his own on-duty police officers could easily have been interpreted as an order.

The county ethics commission also does not rule on matters involving teachers, who report to the Board of Education, not the county administration.

Tyson Bennett, general counsel for the Board of Education, said the board's ethics policies make it clear that teachers are free to campaign for whomever they want when they are off duty and not on school grounds.

Bennett said that he would have to review the schools ethics policies to be sure what political activities teachers are allowed to do at work.

The photographs of teachers that Owens used in her campaign literature do not make it clear whether the teachers are in schools or on duty.

One glossy brochure, "Janet Owens for County Executive," states prominently at the bottom "endorsed by the teachers of Anne Arundel County." Inside is a photo of Owens and several other politicians posing with county teachers.

"Basically, this all boils down to sour grapes," said John Kurpjuweit, a member of the board of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. "I'm sure that Tolliver would not have been doing any protesting had his friend John Gary won the election."

Kurpjuweit said the teachers union distributed newsletters through school mailboxes saying that the union had endorsed Owens. But he said the union warned teachers not to tell students how their parents should vote.

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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