On the heels of a Circuit Court decision that Montgomery County acted illegally by campaigning on a 2012 ballot question, union leaders want a criminal investigation of county leaders.
Montgomery County’s employee union heads are asking Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt and Montgomery County Inspector General Edward L. Blansitt III to investigate if County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and members of the County Council committed any criminal acts as part of the county’s campaign on behalf of the 2012 ballot Question B.
Patrick Lacefield, Montgomery County’s director of public information, said Davitt and Blansitt have already looked into the matter. Davitt found nothing criminal, Lacefield said.
Gino Renne, president of United Food and Commercial Workers/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization Local 1994, said his union is working with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 and the Montgomery County Career Firefighters Association Inc. International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1664 to draft a formal request for investigation. Nothing had been sent as of Monday.
Renne said taxpayers deserve to know if the county’s elected leaders acted with criminal intent when Montgomery spent more than $120,000 campaigning for “yes” votes on Question B.
Question B asked voters if they wanted to uphold a 2011 law that stripped the county police union’s power to bargain the effects of management decisions.
Voters upheld the law, the position the county favored.
Lodge 35 sued the county in November 2012 alleging the county illegally spent taxpayer money on the campaign. The union asked the court to force Leggett and Lacefield to repay county coffers as well as the union’s legal and campaign expenses.
While judge Ronald Rubin ruled on March 19 that the county acted illegally in its campaign, he held Leggett and Lacefield harmless and did not reward any damages to the union.
Renne said Leggett has a history of breaking the law, citing three labor cases questioning Leggett’s power to reject awards of binding arbitration, which the executive lost.
The cases were brought after Leggett ignored an arbitration ruling in favor of the unions by not funding provisions of employee contracts in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal. Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals ruled that Leggett did not have legislative immunity to avoid being called into account for his decision by the administrator.
“The Leggett administration has been operating loose and fast ever since he took office, they do whatever they want to do, they don’t abide by the rules,” Renne said. “If I were a taxpayer, I’d be concerned about that type of leadership. What’s it going to be next? That is really the question here.”
Lacefield called the unions’ continued calls for investigation over Question B “ironic” saying those same unions worked with him on the county 2010 ballot campaign to support the imposition of an ambulance fee.
“It seems to me like they are being a little ‘born again’ on this issue,” Lacefield said. “When it was on an issue which they supported, they were OK with it.”
Lacefield also noted that both Davitt and Blansitt investigated the county’s campaign for Question B back in 2012, before the union sued the county.
In a October 2012 letter referring the matter to Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, Davitt said that while he disagreed with the rationale offered by County Attorney Marc P. Hansen for the county’s action, Davitt believed county leaders acted in good faith on the advice of attorneys.
Gansler never issued an opinion on the issue.
In his decision, Blansitt deferred to Davitt’s letter.