Alderman, police chief caught in big `tiff,' Annapolis mayor says

Men disagree over city crime, Police Department

April 24, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm and Phillip McGowan | Jamie Stiehm and Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer rejected Alderman George O. Kelley Sr.'s assertion that the police force is understaffed and denounced his demand that Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson resign as politically motivated.

"I see it as a tiff with bad blood between two men," Moyer said. "Because of George's other aspirations, he's taking the tiff to a different level."

Expressing her approval of Johnson and the Police Department's crime-fighting record, Moyer said Kelley, a former city police officer, had turned a private telephone quarrel with Johnson into a public spat.

Kelley held a small City Hall news conference Thursday in which he alleged that Johnson had "threatened" him during the phone call and announced he planned to press criminal charges.

After reviewing Kelley's allegation, the county state's attorney's office declined to pursue charges against Johnson, William D. Roessler, deputy state's attorney, said Friday.

Moyer said crime in the state capital has dropped to a 10-year low, adding that the acrimony between the two men dates to Kelley's 15 years on the force before he resigned to run for alderman in 2001.

"George was a contentious person when he was on the force. ... George pops off all the time," Moyer said. "It beats me how he could possibly feel threatened."

Moyer pointed to Kelley's aspirations for higher office - including that of mayor. Kelley recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, partly at the behest of his friend, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Kelley said yesterday that he's also pondering a run for a County Council seat or state office. "I'm keeping my options open."

Johnson and Kelly have clashed over police presence and the size of the force - the alderman has called to add at least 15 officers to the force of 126. Kelley also has asked the city council's Public Safety Committee to weigh the matter.

Pointing to three violent crimes in the Eastport and the Clay Street communities, Kelley said, "If I feel there's a lack of police representation, it's my obligation as a public servant to bring it up."

Moyer said the record shows Johnson has led the department in the right direction. She said she is satisfied with the $15 million police budget and the force size in a city of slightly more than 30,000, with a growing number of neighborhood watch programs.

On Friday, both men recounted the phone conversation from the day before, which took place about 10 a.m. and lasted less than a minute. They disagreed on what was said.

Johnson said he called to inquire whether Kelley received safety statistics and other crime information Kelley had requested.

"Before I could get the words out, `Hey, George, did you get a copy of those papers ... ,' he went full throttle," Johnson said, adding that Kelley denounced him and the mayor.

According to Kelley, Johnson started the conversation by saying: "George, I'll cut to the chase. I heard you talking about me. ... You know, I'm a treacherous [expletive]."

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