Ex-deputy wants to alter way Sheriff's Office is run

County Politics

April 30, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

On Thursday, L. Jesse Bane traded his police uniform for khakis, a short-sleeved shirt and a baseball cap and headed to Joppatowne High School, where he has been developing a homeland security program for the past several months.

It was his first stop since stepping down from the Harford Sheriff's Office, where he was a deputy for 34 years.

But his next visit was designed to ensure his retirement is brief: Bane went to the county Board of Elections and registered as a Democratic candidate for sheriff.

"I think there's going to be old habits that'll be hard to break. It was in my blood," he said. "But I'm looking to go back."

For some in the Sheriff's Office, Bane's candidacy validates reports of morale problems. Over the years, Bane said, he had been approached various times and encouraged to run for public office, from sheriff to state Senate. Yet this week, three years before he planned to retire, Bane stepped down to launch his campaign.

"The way the current sheriff administers the agency is different than I would, both internally and externally," said Bane, 57. "I don't think the agency is living up to its potential, and I think I can head the agency in that direction."

Bane, an Upper Crossroads resident, said he hopes the campaign will remain on high ground. But he could end up going head-to-head with another former 30-year deputy, Sheriff R. Thomas Golding, a Republican, to oversee what officers say is a sharply divided agency. The sheriffs union recently held a bitter election, and members resoundingly rejected a motion Thursday night to purchase tickets to a Golding fundraiser, according to deputies who were present.

The months ahead could prove even more contentious. Bane's choice for undersheriff would likely be plucked from Golding's current command staff. Former deputy and longtime spokesman Edward Hopkins has resurfaced as Golding's campaign spokesman after leaving last fall for a position with the state Department of Juvenile Services, and other past agency leaders are expected to make endorsements.

"Bane is someone a lot of people have wanted to see run, and they're very glad that he is," said union President Fred Visnaw, who said the union will not endorse a candidate until after the primary.

Through a spokesman, Golding said that morale issues are dealt with every day and that Bane's candidacy is a political decision fueled by a desire to improve the agency. The voters will decide who is best for the job, he said.

After Bane graduated from the University of Maryland in 1972, his aspirations of working for the federal government were put off because of a hiring freeze. He joined the county Sheriff's Office for what he thought would be a temporary stay.

"Once I got here, I fell in love with the place," he said.

By age 38, Bane had risen to second-in-command of the agency. His major initiatives included heading the committees to establish the 911 system in Harford and the county joint narcotics task force. He worked to establish the sheriff's child support enforcement unit, and served as the first public information officer.

Cristie A. Kahler, director of community outreach and development for the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center, said Bane was crucial in spearheading the effort to create an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

"He's been absolutely the right person to take us forward over the last decade," Kahler said. "He's been an amazing leader, and he's someone that we have always felt comfortable in confiding and trusting in."

One of his most noteworthy initiatives has been a Christmas drive, a program started in 1983 in which deputies deliver care packages to 125 to 200 needy families.

Such efforts kept him out in the community and among citizens, he said. For the past 10 years, Bane has overseen the support services bureau, which oversees administrative affairs and court security.

"If you're caring about the needs of the community you're serving, you need to do more than sit in an office like I've been doing," Bane said. "You have to get out and rub shoulders so you can understand their problems."

Bane was terse in discussing his specific concerns with the Sheriff's Office or his platform. He has seen firsthand the effect of election-year politics on the Sheriff's Office - he was the campaign manager for then-Sheriff Dominick J. Mele's re-election campaign in 1990.

When Mele was defeated by Robert A. Comes, Bane was demoted from undersheriff to an investigator of child support cases, and he had his pay cut.

"I firmly believe the politics we run into every four years can be avoided," he said, saying he thinks deputies should be free to support candidates without fear of retribution.

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