Soon after Baltimore Sheriff John W. Anderson hired his girlfriend and future wife as a $24,000-a-year secretary in 1998, she had back surgery and stayed home for two months. Although she quickly exhausted her sick leave, the paychecks kept coming.
And the paychecks kept coming when Donna Gilchrist Anderson took three more months of sick leave last year - and when she worked part time for more than a month, records show.
Anderson says he has done nothing wrong in his hiring or in the handling of Donna Anderson's sick leave. He and his wife say three employees, who owe their jobs to Anderson, voluntarily donated more than 120 sick days to Donna so she could take time off.
Anderson said his wife is treated just like everybody else. Other employees have donated sick time to each other, he said.
"She gets cut no breaks," Anderson said. "If she screws up, I'll fire her as fast as I fire anybody else. When she is here during the day, she is Donna Anderson - employee."
But city Comptroller Joan Pratt is examining the apparent special treatment of Donna Anderson, which might have violated state personnel and ethics laws.
What Pratt terms an "audit" of the sheriff's office began at the recommendation of State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. He investigated unrelated allegations involving grant spending, and instead turned up questions about Donna Anderson's sick leave, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
In addition, six other relatives, close friends or children of friends of Anderson and his second in command, Col. G. Wayne Cox, are on the sheriff's payroll:
The husband of Anderson's niece is a deputy sheriff trainee earning $27,592. He got the position in April 1998. Brian Brummitt, who Anderson said began as a court security officer, declined to comment.
Anderson lavished praise on Brummitt. "If he had 10 more brothers and sisters or cousins, uncles or people who he went to school with, based on what I've seen of this young man, I'd go out and recruit them personally myself."
The maid of honor at Anderson's December 1998 wedding to Donna Gilchrist is a deputy sheriff trainee earning $26,579. She was hired six months before the nuptials as a court security officer, Anderson said. Tamara Purnell did not return repeated phone calls.
"She is one of the best employees we have around here," Anderson said.
The wife of the pastor at Donna Anderson's father's church, John Wesley AME Church in East Baltimore, was hired as a secretary in August and is receiving $25,293. Anderson called her a "heck of an asset."
In an interview, Althea Bell said her relationship to the sheriff meant nothing. "My process was no different than anyone else's. I just happen to know the sheriff," Bell said.
The daughter of state Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore was hired in August 1997. She is a court security officer earning $23,640. Anderson said he is a close friend of her father.
Jacqueline Conway, who is listed as a court security officer, said she works as a clerk. Asked about her father's friendship with Anderson, she replied: "What does that have to do with me working here?" She declined to answer further questions.
The brother of state Sen. Ralph Hughes of Baltimore was given a job in 1993 because Anderson said he had "respect and admiration" for their father. Michael Hughes is a clerical assistant earning $22,974. He declined to answer questions about his job.
The daughter of Cox was hired as a court security officer with annual pay of $22,757 in September 1999, just months after Cox was promoted to chief deputy, the No. 2 position in the office. Amanda Cox declined to comment.
Anderson, 53, earns $64,000 and has been elected three times since being appointed sheriff in 1989. His 134 employees are based in the Circuit Court buildings on Calvert Street and are responsible for serving warrants, summonses and foreclosure notices, as well as providing security for all five city courthouses.
At sheriff's `pleasure'
More than half the jobs are civil service positions with the state - such as deputy sheriff - that require employees to pass certain tests. There are about 45 patronage appointees - such as secretaries and court security officers - who serve "at the pleasure" of the sheriff. Basic requirements for a court security position are having a high school diploma, or a GED, and being a U.S. resident, Anderson said.
All people hired for deputy sheriff and court security positions must go through a certified police academy. The difference between them is that court security officers can start work immediately, because they don't have to pass a state entrance exam like the deputies. They can also work without going through a police academy, if they are placed in a position that does not require carrying a gun, such as checking bags at the courthouse doors, said Michael E. Davey, lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents the sheriff's deputies.