Arundel executive vetoes bill on police transfers

Owens complains bill would give some officers `special pension rights'

August 28, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon and Matthew Mosk | Devon Spurgeon and Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens vetoed a bill yesterday that would have allowed retiring county officers to transfer to the Sheriff's Department while collecting their full pensions.

Owens called the bill "bad policy," saying it would throw a monkey wrench in contract negotiations with police and provide a pension benefit not available to other county employees.

"This bill should not become law because, once again, we are creating a special class of pension rights for a special class of county employees," Owens said in a letter to the County Council, which voted 6-1 in favor of the plan. "We should have learned our lesson that every time we create a special interest pension bill, the taxpayer winds up on the short end."

The veto came after heavy lobbying against the bill from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The president of the NAACP's Anne Arundel chapter, Gerald G. Stansbury, urged Owens to veto the bill because he believed the job transfers would come at the expense of minority hiring.

The bill "does not give the opportunity to hire African-Americans to fill the vacancies," Stansbury said.

Council President Daniel E. Klosterman -- sponsor of the bill -- said he saw Owens' concern for the effect on negotiations with county employees as the reason for her veto rather than the NAACP objection.

Had the legislation been signed, it would have enabled the Sheriff's Department to fill vacancies with retiring police officers. The officers would have been permitted to draw on their retirement pay -- approximately 70 percent of their salary -- while earning a salary as a deputy.

Currently, a retired officer taking another county job would have to deduct half the new salary from the pension benefit. Klosterman said he viewed that policy as "discriminatory."

In addition to enabling police to take on new work for the county without penalty, Klosterman said, his bill would have saved the county the cost of training new deputies because police already know the "lay of the land."

Deputy Sheriff William A. Tankersley said his office has had a difficult time finding qualified people to fill openings. "Most police agencies are doing a lot of hiring through lateral entry, which is a substantial savings in training. You hit the ground running with minimal training and that is in our interest," he said.

But the Owens administration said the bill could create a situation where recruits would be older and have to be replaced more frequently.

The administration's objection to the possible impact on labor negotiations with police was centered on retirement issues. One issue expected on the bargaining table is a deferred retirement plan that would allow police to begin accruing pensions three to five years before they leave.

That benefit, in some form, has been granted by other police departments, including Baltimore's and the state police.

This bill would "weaken the county's position in upcoming collective bargaining negotiations which will involve discussions about the Deferred Retirement Option Plan," Owens wrote in exercising her veto.

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