Recent public schedules from Leopold contain less detail

Anne Arundel county executive makes several changes amid investigation

November 27, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

When Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold turned over his schedules from 2006 through early 2011 in response to a subpoena from the state prosecutor's office, the calendar entries spanned some 52,000 pages.

Over the past six months, his schedules — obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request — were recorded in a mere 12 pages.

In the past Leopold's schedules included notations that his prescription had to be picked up from the pharmacy at a certain time or that a staffer should be dispatched to the bank for him. Now the schedules mostly list basic information: the time and locations of events he plans to attend, notations of when a member of his immediate staff is on vacation.

In the time since the state prosecutor's office began earlier this year to investigate allegations that Leopold misused government resources by directing his county-paid police detail to carry out campaign activities, the county executive has made other changes. He has drastically reduced the use of his county-paid police security detail, and he has reassigned the officers — as well as the secretary who kept his schedule.

And Leopold, a Republican, has cut back significantly on overtime spent on his county-paid security detail, according to records provided by the county. In 2010, the detail was paid $104,000 in overtime. In the first 11 months of this year, that figure shrank to $7,000.

The changes suggest a more disciplined style for the 68-year-old career politician, according to political observers. Dan Nataf, the director of the Center for the Study of Local Politics at Anne Arundel County Community College, said the county executive may be looking to shore up his reputation with voters. Leopold is term-limited and weighing a run for higher office in 2014.

"It's possible that he's still thinking of his next soft landing," said Nataf. "He's toying with comptroller, toying with governor. Who knows what else? In order for him to be viable, he'll have to be able to withstand scrutiny."

Leopold has acknowledged that he asked some of the security officers to perform personal tasks for him as he campaigned for re-election last year. He has said that he sent an officer from the detail to pick up a $4,000 political contribution from the head of the Fire Department's union — a task he later said he should have done himself.

Leopold also is the subject of a pending federal lawsuit alleging gender discrimination. He has denied any wrongdoing in both cases.

The county executive hasn't commented on the investigation in recent months and declined to be interviewed for this article. When news of the investigation broke in the spring, he called the allegations "political retaliation."

Meanwhile, the state prosecutor's office has periodically called several county employees — including officers on Leopold's security detail — before an Annapolis grand jury. Officials with the prosecutor's office have declined to comment.

Leopold's spokesman, Dave Abrams, said once Leopold became aware of the high price tag for the detail, he made changes. "The day he found out the overtime costs, he took steps to dramatically reduce the use of overtime," said Abrams. "The detail has not been eliminated, but the officers spend the majority of their time on other assignments."

Abrams also noted, as he has in the past, that Leopold had two back surgeries in 2010 and frequently used the detail officers as drivers. "Obviously, last year was different in terms of the county executive's health and his schedule," said Abrams. "Now he's much more able to get around himself."

Abrams said he was unsure if Leopold directed staffers to revamp his schedule. He said "the public schedule has a simple goal, and that is to track where the county executive needs to be on a particular time and a particular date."

C. Edward Middlebrooks, a former two-term councilman and defense attorney in private practice, said the allegations haven't hurt Leopold.

"The people I talk to, they don't see it as anything that major, more like nitpicking stuff," said Middlebrooks, a Republican, who quarreled with Leopold during his time on the council. "I think they're happy with the way he's running the government. He's not passing new taxes and new fees, so people are OK with him."

And, Middlebrooks added, the changes Leopold has made may allay critics.

"Clearly, there's never been any love lost between Mr. Leopold and myself," said Middlebrooks. "Does the county executive need a driver? No. But there may be times when you want a security detail when there's a hot topic, or you're in a certain area at night, or there's some threat against you. So there might be times, but just on a daily basis to drive you to work? Come on, no."

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