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Furloughs issue front and center for Prince George's sheriff's deputies

Jonathan Mummolo

Members of the union that represents Prince George's County Sheriff's Deputies met with candidates for county executive last week, and are expected to vote on whom to endorse in that race Wednesday.

The question of the day from union members, according to an attendee, concerned furloughs.

For the last two fiscal years, all county employees have faced furloughs for ten days to help close budget gaps, despite stiff resistance to the policy in law enforcement circles. Furloughs in FY2009 were ruled unconstitutional in federal court, after some employee unions sued. The county has since appealed the decision.

Opponents argue that furloughing police officers and sheriff's deputies puts citizens at risk, and some, like the county's Fraternal Order of Police president, Vince Canales, have vowed to make the issue a centerpiece of the 2010 campaign, even launching a series of harsh ads decrying county budget cuts in October.

On Dec. 30, six potential county executive candidates met with the sheriff's deputies' union. John "Rodney" Bartlett, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, who was only there for a portion of the interviews, said furloughs were asked about repeatedly, and he recounted some of the candidates' answers to Maryland Politics. (It should be noted that Bartlett praised Baker's performance in the meeting and has openly opposed endorsing County Sheriff Michael A. Jackson.)

Bartlett said former Del. Rushern L. Baker III pledged not to furlough law enforcement officers or teachers. County Council Member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville)--who has voted in support of furloughs on the Council--said he would support the same policy again if the budget called for it, citing the need to preserve the county's AAA bond rating, Bartlett said. Bartlett said Jackson hedged, saying he'd have to see the fiscal situation first before deciding whether he'd pursue furloughs again.

Calls to Baker, Dean and Jackson were not immediately returned Monday.

Also in attendance were Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-Prince George's); Henry Turner Jr., chairman of the county veterans commission; and County Council Member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills). (Those three have not yet been reached for comment on the meeting either, but stay tuned for an update.)

Robert A. Cease, president of the Prince George's County Deputy Sheriff's Association F.O.P. Lodge 112, declined to state a personal preference in the race, saying he wanted the membership's vote to speak for itself.

"It's strictly up to the membership on who they like and who they want to endorse," Cease said. "I don't want to try to sway any votes. ... I want the membership to truly make the decision."

The endorsement would be a boost for any candidate, but without question, the candidate with the most to lose by not getting the union's nod of approval is Jackson, since it would be seen as a rebuff from his own troops.

Jackson recently got into a tussle with the union's leadership over an issue concerning the alleged misuse of thousands of dollars of union funds by a past union president. Jackson was seen by some in the union as protecting the former president, who serves under him in his department, rather than taking the alleged misconduct seriously, a characterization he strongly disputes.

The incident prompted Bartlett to say he would do everything he could to prevent Jackson from getting the sheriff deputies' endorsement.

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  January 4, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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No furloughs. But no sacred cows either. If there's not enough money, then an across board reduction in force (RIF/lay-offs) is the only fair thing to do. As a Prince Georges County resident and taxpayer, I'm tired of politics taking presidence of over good sound management and governance.

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