Union polling troopers on Norris

Leaders seek `consensus' on superintendent after department shake-up

April 09, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Union leaders concerned about the way Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Edward T. Norris is reorganizing the department are surveying troopers to determine whether they have confidence in their new commander.

"We want to get a consensus," said Jim Wobbleton, president of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance. "We need to know what the majority of troopers think and present that to the administration."

The labor alliance is the official bargaining unit for troopers and state-employed officers. But two Fraternal Order of Police lodges - the Maryland Troopers Association and the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers - also represent troopers in various matters and vote on the alliance board.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's editions contained incorrect information about former Maryland State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell's administration. Col. Mitchell hired civilians to fill high-ranking positions, including chief of staff, chief budget officer and commander of the technology bureau.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Norris, who has promised to return more officers to patrol duties, shook up the ranks of the agency last month when he eliminated several regional commanders' positions and decentralized several units.

A mix of majors, captains and lieutenants now command the 23 barracks in the state. Norris also gave two civilians from Baltimore, where he served as police commissioner for three years, positions and salaries comparable to lieutenant colonels, who earn about $100,000 annually.

In the administration of Norris' predecessor, Col. David B. Mitchell, the barracks were run by lieutenants, and Mitchell did not employ civilian advisers.

Wobbleton and some other union leaders said troopers have concerns about continuity in the command structure, questions about fairness in promotions and doubts about whether more officers will be on patrol and not in supervisory roles in the barracks.

"We're not trying to run the department," said Wobbleton, who expects to have results from the survey in the next week or two. "But by not raising these concerns, it gives the administration the impression everything is OK."

Michael Hawkins, president of the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers, said, "Something's wrong when you have this many people unhappy."

But other troopers said even talking about a vote of no confidence in Norris, who has been on the job less than four months, is premature.

Leaders of the Maryland Troopers Association also complain that the wording of the labor alliance survey is skewed to elicit negative responses.

The nine yes-or-no questions range from "Do you support the recently announced reorganization plan for the Maryland State Police?" to whether troopers support plans to make changes in their pension plan.

Norris said in a meeting with the union that he had no intention of accepting interdepartmental transfers of officers, changing the pension system or abolishing ranks in the department.

"This [survey] is from a small minority politically tied to the last administration," Norris said. "I feel tremendous support from most troopers. ... I just want to do my job."

Wobbleton said the survey wasn't motivated by politics.

"I didn't want to be driven by the 10 percent who have been calling with concerns. I wanted input from everyone," he said.

Although one of the questions on the alliance survey is: "Do you support a vote of no-confidence in Norris?" Wobbleton said he doesn't think such a vote would be a good idea.

"I think no-confidence votes destroy relationships between labor and management, and we're trying to build a relationship," he said.

Differing opinions about the survey are the latest development in what has become an increasingly bitter struggle over which group will represent the troopers.

Lt. Nick Paros, the troopers' association president, who objected to the alliance's endorsement of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in last year's governor's race, sent out a teletype message to all troopers last week discrediting the survey.

Paros said it was unfair to ask troopers whether they believe a federal grand jury's investigation into Norris' use of an expense account when he was Baltimore police commissioner reduces his ability to lead the state police.

Norris was the city's police commissioner before his surprise resignation to take over the state police. His use of an off-the-books charity fund to pay for travel and entertainment while with the city has prompted the grand jury investigation.

"We certainly need to wait out any investigation before we pass quick judgment. All the survey is is a continuation of sour grapes over the election. These types of surveys never help the rank and file," said Paros.

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