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Newcomer challenges Charles County register of wills

In Charles County, a political neophyte is challenging a longtime county government official who in recent years was accused of unethical behavior for allegedly misleading county commissioners.

Loraine Hennessy (D), 46, is challenging Susie C. Bowles (R) for the office of register of wills in Tuesday's general election. Bowles, 63, of Newburg has served in that post since 1990.

Hennessy is a mother of four children between ages 12 and 17. She and her family live in the La Plata area. She also works as a substitute teacher in county public schools. Her husband, William "Lou" Hennessy, is a District Court judge in Charles.

Hennessy's campaign for register of wills is her first foray into elective politics.

"The reason I got into this race is basically because of the ethics issue," Hennessy said. She was referring to a controversy over Bowles's 2006 appearance before the county commissioners in which she said she did not have a "retirement." At her request, the county commission voted to grant her a county pension that would have paid her as much as $75,000 a year (the post of register of wills pays more than $90,000 annually).

The vote upset some county employees and other registers of wills across the state, who said Bowles was getting an unfair benefit. In January 2007, the state comptroller's office wrote to county officials and the state attorney general requesting an investigation.

Officials learned that Bowles has in fact paid into the state pension plan for more than 10 years and is entitled to a state pension.

In April 2008, county commissioners voted unanimously to repeal the decision to grant Bowles a county pension and called on the Maryland State Ethics Commission to investigate the issue. At the time, Bowles apologized to the commissioners for "causing confusion" and said she never intended to mislead them or lie to them.

Bowles did not respond to a phone call. Her attorney declined to comment.

It could not be determined whether the state ethics commission initiated an investigation of the matter. A spokesman for the commission said it does not confirm the existence of any investigation.

Hennessy said Bowles is continuing to mislead voters in her reelection campaign by claiming she has had a perfect record of state audits. Hennessy pointed to a November 2009 state audit which found that Bowles's office "lacked adequate controls over collections and disbursements. For example, the office did not adequately segregate certain duties and, as a result, there was a lack of assurance that all collections and disbursements were properly processed and accounted for."

-- Ruben Castaneda

By Ruben Castaneda  | October 29, 2010; 3:58 PM ET
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