How come there’s been no action to reveal our HoCo Sheriff isn’t legally our Sheriff? How come following the law hasn’t seemed important? How come like many I’m losing faith observing “politics as usual”?
Howard County, or at least the carefully packaged and promoted image we’ve been sold of HoCo, seems to be unraveling. Incident by incident, irregularity by irregularity, questionable action by questionable action, contract renewal by contract renewal, ethics issue by ethics issue, corrupt act by corrupt act, accusation of fraud by accusation of fraud, ….things are coming to light that don’t fit with the utopian image presented in the past. This change in perception is for the most part NOT the fault of the current administration. Perhaps this is a sign of greater transparency? Perhaps it is the result of simmering issues coming to a boil that we are experiencing long overdue revelations.
I want to begin with the newest revelation and one about which you might not yet have heard. Two weeks ago a Sun Investigative Report revealed the Howard County Auditor uncovered that our County Sheriff had used deputies to assist with his campaign in 2014. ( http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/ellicott-city/ph-ho-cf-sheriff-campaign-leave-0324-20160318-story.html ) We citizens paid for almost $8,000 of “union leave” for several employees. The union business they were allegedly on was actually performing tasks in support of the Sheriff’s campaign– such as putting up signs and distributing literature at the polls. This clearly provided him an advantage in the election.
Now additional irregularities within the Sheriff’s Department have come to light. It appears that Sheriff Fitzgerald is NOT really our sheriff–NOT if you apply the laws and the State Constitution (which would be a right and just thing to do). According to charges filed in the Circuit Court of HoCo this week,
- Mr. Fitzgerald does NOT reside in HoCo and
- He did NOT take the oath of office after the 2014 general election.
On-line property tax documents show Mr. Fitzgerald claiming the Homestead Tax Credit on his “principal residence” in Ocean City. The Clerk of the Circuit Court, in response to a citizen inquiry, verified in writing on March 28, 2016 that “the last Oath of Office administered to the Howard County Sheriff was dated December 14, 2010.”
Both county residency and taking the oath of office within 30 days of receiving his commission or notice of appointment is required to qualify for the office. Not having done so, Mr. Fitzgerald is legally considered to have “refused the office, and the office shall be considered vacant.” (Judicial Proceedings 2-106). The law is less clear on how to fill this vacancy, whether by special election or appointment—and if by appointment, just who does the appointing. I think strong consideration should be given to the opposing 2014 candidate for Sheriff. He did, after all, receive 42,692 votes from the citizens of Howard County—with no union assistance. John Francis McMahon ran on a platform of transparency. Clearly it is much needed within the Sheriff’s Department.
Many citizens have become enlightened about the situation with our school system (the Board of Ed and Superintendent of Schools)—and the citizens WILL take care of it through the upcoming election. But there are some additional things coming to light regarding our local judicial system which will require strong leadership from our Executive and Council members to take care of them.
During the recent town halls held by our State legislators, more than issues with HCPPS came to light. Several women, now homeless as a result of the divorce settlements from our courts, reported that their husbands taunted them with threats of having ‘bought the judge’ to make sure they would receive nothing. As noted in my blog of March 20, 2016, during the referendum attorney trial there has been speculation that court documents were not properly handled within the HoCo Court System. Accusations are growing on numerous fronts but there has been no evidence of any investigations being pursued—or of actions resulting from those investigations.
When I naively ask “How come?” I am advised: It’s just business as usual. It’s just politics. The law doesn’t apply to them. They have an understanding. Their endorsements are needed. You don’t know the history. That’s what happens when you have one party rule for too long. That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it always will be.
I’m proud to be one of the “crazies” who has difficulty accepting these explanations. I for one would like to see our laws applied equally to everyone, regardless of their position. Apparently these ‘everybody-knows-but-just-looks-the-other-way’ situations have been going on unchecked for years. Apparently other similar situations have been going on unchecked for decades. Now is the time to ‘check’ it!
Demand assurance of justice from our judiciary and action from our leaders on the ‘Sheriff Situation’…….then meet me on the high road,