Calvert County commissioners voted yesterday not to dismantle the sheriff's department, the primary law-enforcement agency in the county for more than 300 years.
In a 3-2 vote, the commissioners decided against creating a county police department that would have relegated the sheriff and his deputies to serving arrest warrants and other lesser duties.
"I'm pretty pleased about it," said Sheriff John A. "Rodney" Bartlett, who was appointed in May by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Barlett said the vote will allow the 97-person sheriff's department to continue its duties without the distraction of worrying about the office's future.
"I had gone out there and told the deputies, `I know you have a lot on your minds, but go out and keep doing what you're doing,'" Bartlett said.
Backers of the switch had argued that a police department would be more professional and accountable than a sheriff's office. The department's chief would have been picked by county commissioners.
The sheriff is elected every four years by county voters -- a system critics say makes the office susceptible to politics. Bartlett was appointed after Sheriff Vonzell Ward resigned amid allegations that he harassed a former deputy's ex-girlfriend.
The ordinance was defeated partly because Commissioner John Douglas Parran -- who had originally voted for a resolution in favor of the police force -- decided against it yesterday.
"The long-term change is that it would be taking voting authority away from the citizens," Parran said. "You can't really argue with the citizens' right to choose."
Some of the support for a police department came from residents who believed Glendening did not adequately consult local Democratic or Republican Party officials before appointing Bartlett, a Prince George's County police corporal. The local Fraternal Order of Police had endorsed Patrick Nutter, a retired sheriff's lieutenant in Calvert County.