Friday, June 1, 2007

O’Malley’s pick to head state police draws fire

Miller, others decry lack of geographic diversity in the Cabinet as veteran Baltimore County chief is named

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), newly appointed State Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) walk into state police headquarters courtyard for a news conference Thursday.
PIKESVILLE — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s decision to replace the last key Cabinet holdover from the previous administration has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum.

The nomination of Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan to lead the 2,500-employee state police force also prompted a tepid response from some in the law enforcement community who had embraced Col. Thomas E. ‘‘Tim” Hutchins during his three-and-a-half year tenure.

‘‘I think [Hutchins] took over at a very difficult time ... and he returned a lot of values to the agency,” said M. Kirk Daugherty, president of the Maryland Troopers Association, which represents 2,500 active and retired officers. ‘‘He was traditional Maryland State Police, and he knew the agency.”

O’Malley (D) formally introduced Sheridan, a retired state trooper, as his pick to replace Hutchins on Thursday at state police headquarters before more than 100 troopers and non-patrol personnel. In 2004, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) asked Hutchins, a former Charles County delegate and career state trooper, to take over as superintendent after his first superintendent, Edward T. Norris, pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion that occurred when he was Baltimore city police commissioner.

Hutchins’ dismissal also means O’Malley’s Cabinet, which lacks only a permanent secretary of state, includes no Southern Marylanders. That angered Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach, who urged O’Malley earlier this year to retain Hutchins and Veterans Affairs Secretary George W. Owings III, a former Calvert County delegate who was replaced last month by a former deputy, James A. Adkins of Cambridge.

‘‘When you have a Baltimore city fella [as governor], you have got to make sure the whole state is represented,” Miller told WBAL-AM radio. ‘‘As president of the Senate, you try to make certain the chairmen of the committees, the membership, reflects the diversity of our great state. ... And I know the governor is trying his very best to diversify his Cabinet, but I’d just like to see it take a little more of a geographic tilt so that the area where the state was founded — Southern Maryland, where I come from and [former Comptroller] Louis Goldstein came from — has a little representation in the governor’s Cabinet.”

O’Malley also passed over another of Miller’s recommendations for agriculture secretary: Buddy L. Hance, a Calvert County farmer and president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, who was instead named a deputy secretary.

A top GOP lawmaker also took aim at the lack of Western Marylanders in the Cabinet.

‘‘O’Malley, when he was campaigning, talked about a 24-county strategy, but if you look at his Cabinet, it doesn’t look like a 24-county Cabinet he’s put together,” said House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown.

The governor defended his Cabinet’s diversity.

‘‘We’re very glad that we’ve recruited such a high-caliber group of men and women to fill the various Cabinet positions and there’s a finite number of secretaries, but I think if you look at them, you’ll be sore pressed to find another administration that had the sort of professional depth as well as the geographic spread and racial and gender diversity that ours currently has. I’m very, very proud of it.”

Sheridan, a 30-year state police veteran who became chief of Baltimore County’s force in 1996, said he would seek to build upon some of the initiatives that Hutchins began, but will evaluate the agency’s effectiveness.

‘‘It’s just a matter of do we have the right resources in the right place,” he said.

With Sheridan at the helm, O’Malley said Maryland can become a national model for addressing public safety and homeland security challenges. During his state police career, Sheridan oversaw drug enforcement, special operations, internal affairs and criminal intelligence.

‘‘The core mission of the Maryland State Police is something that Chief Sheridan understands very well,” O’Malley said. ‘‘He understands that as our population has changed, the roles of the county and state police have to constantly be adjusted in order to serve the people to their greatest effectiveness and greatest stability.”

Added Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr. (D-Dist. 12A) of Arbutus, a criminal investigator for the Howard County Police Department, ‘‘I think he’s run a very professional operation. He’s a very no-nonsense manager and very progressive in his ideas.”

However, Sheridan had a rocky rapport with the local police union on labor issues.

‘‘From our position, we’ve had a difficult working relationship with Chief Sheridan, but having said that, he certainly is a law enforcement professional that has an opportunity now to go back to a culture that he’s very familiar with,” said Cole B. Weston, president of Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4. ‘‘He didn’t have a lot of exposure to collective bargaining and communicating with labor organizations to work out agreeable solutions when solutions presented themselves.”

Even so, Weston said Sheridan excelled at fighting crime in a growing county and running an efficient police force.

Hutchins, an Army National Guard reservist for more than 35 years, said he was disappointed to lose his job but grateful that O’Malley allowed him to continue to serve for the first few months of his term.

‘‘I understand politics and I understand what it is to be an appointee and what that means, but I appreciated that I was able to stay on and see the state police through this critical time,” he said. ‘‘That at least gave stability to the department and the people of Maryland through their statewide law enforcement agency.”

Hutchins also said he was relieved to learn his fate, for better or worse. ‘‘You can only go so long at doing this in a temporary capacity before it begins to take its toll. It wears on your nerves, your stress [level].”

O’Malley would have been wise to retain Hutchins, Shank said. It would have ‘‘guaranteed another three years of smooth sailing.”

But Norris, Hutchins’ predecessor, said he has heard a lot of complaints from troopers that morale was low and there was ‘‘a lot of focus on appearance, but not enough on policing.” He believes Sheridan is a good choice with a strong reputation throughout the state.

However, Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market suspects Hutchins’ removal was more about politics than job performance.

‘‘I think the public is ill-served by not having a diverse Cabinet,” he said. ‘‘He [O’Malley] needs the best people for the job, and I don’t buy the argument that some of the best people don’t have an ‘R’ behind their name.”