Md.'s top court to hear dispute over police take-home cars

Transportation Authority police claim state backed out of deal

May 09, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

This, Maryland Transportation Authority police officers say, was the offer: If the union would ask state lawmakers to withdraw bills that would grant them collective bargaining rights, the agency would give take-home cars to officers.

That was 2006. The bills were withdrawn and the authority approved a take-home car program, according to the legal documents in what has since become a courtroom dispute. But in 2007, with a new administration, officers say the agency reneged on the deal.

On Tuesday, the state's highest court will take up the question of whether a valid agreement ever existed.

The state, in legal documents, refers to the one-page memorandum as a "purported agreement that is facially void." It is not a contract, and would run counter to public policies and procurement laws, according to arguments by the attorney general's office.

The police disagree, and their legal briefs say the transportation authority drew up a proposal to phase in take-home cars for the officers estimated to cost $3.8 million annually for three years.

"It is in my opinion that we made the right deal at that time and kept our word with regards to the contract and the Authority did not,"  Shane Schapiro, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 34, the union which represents the 515 officers, wrote in an email. The union got "snookered," he wrote.

Not part of the legal briefs is what, if any, role politics may have played. The FOP backed Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for governor in 2006. Martin O'Malley won. "Politics is politics and that is all I will say," Schapiro wrote.

"This governor does not make governmental decisions, decisions on the operation of state government, based on political whims," administration spokesman Shaun Adamec said Monday.

Adamec declined to speak about specifics of the court case, as did a spokeswoman for the transportation authority.

The authority's decision to stop the take-home car program as it was about to start came about at the same time O'Malley curbed the use of state-owned vehicles in general.

In 2008, a Baltimore County judge ruled that as a matter of law, the take-home car agreement was neither legal nor enforceable. The FOP appealed, and last year the Court of Special Appeals revived the breach-of-contract claim.

If the FOP wins at the Court of Appeals, the case could be sent back to a Baltimore County courtroom for a trial on the facts of the case. The court has no deadline for issuing a ruling.

During last year's General Assembly session, the officers won collective bargaining rights and are preparing for negotiations.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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