News Alert- Howard County MD (AP) – Howard County Sheriff announces he will be stepping down to pursue new career with Columbia Maryland- based firm, Design Collective. When asked about the latest controversy, he simply said “I have been approached by many friends and family to pursue a new path in design”… “They said I would be involved with institutional facilities such as a new courthouse and possibly a correctional facility”.
Longtime friends who spoke on conditions of anonymity said “We didn’t have the heart to tell him… he had the TV turned down low and the air conditioner running and thought the County Exec asked for him to Design” “We didn’t have the heart to tell him he was asked to Resign.” Meanwhile, the new courthouse plans were quickly drawn up on a standard rule loose leaf sheet of paper that was the only thing lying around at the time. The new public-private facility will include a return to classical architecture which could be roughly called medieval except with a “wing bar with the hottest sauces this side of the Mississippi”. The Sheriff had a booth at this weekend’s Ellicott City Mainstreet festival at Merriweather to show off the concept and ask what flavors people would like to see at the new courthouse.
(Yes, I am pulling your leg……thanks to a clever friend who shares my desire to create a LOCAL you tube video version of the classic SNL ‘Weekend Update’ news program focusing on some of the absurdities HoCo citizens encounter. Let me know if you think this would be enjoyable….and which local politician you’d like to portray on the show.)
There is actually nothing laughable about our current “Sheriff Situation,” yet sometimes it is necessary to laugh to keep from crying. But now let’s get down to some of the ugly facts. What I find most disappointing is the amount of time numerous, numerous people in authority were aware of the Sheriff Situation, yet chose to do nothing about it. Government, and our justice system in particular, have a reputation for proceeding slowly. In this case I would characterize the pace as ‘glacial’.
It took over a year for the results of the Office of Human Rights complaint to be released. Hats off to the brave whistleblower: thumbs down to the slow timing of the OHR. During that time Sheriff’s Department employees were subjected to continuing bullying, intimidation, insults, and slurs. Note: It is unclear whether there is any Whistleblower Protection Program in HoCo. If not, NOW is the time to develop such.
The County Auditor provided the Council, Executive, Chief Administrative Officer, and Solicitor a report on February 24, 2016 revealing that the Sheriff had inappropriately used about $8,000 in union funds to pay deputies to do work in support of his campaign. The auditor recommended the deputies involved pay back the leave time which was used and that all future union agreements delineate specifically the purpose for which Union leave can be used. The Executive cut the amount Fitzgerald used from the Sheriff’s Office budget. Personally I think it should have come from his own pocket since he used it for his re-election campaign. I am unsure whether any steps have been taken to clarify the union contracts to date, but consider this a priority to avoid a repeat
Shortly after release of the auditor’s report, the runner up in the Sheriff election, John Francis McMahon, began receiving materials from an anonymous sender, detailing issues with Fitzgerald failing to take the oath of office and residing outside Howard County. After confirming the information through official documents, Mr. McMahon began a tireless campaign to bring these issues to the attention of office holders at both the County and State level as well as the press. Unable to get anyone to take action, he filed suit in the Circuit Court. Throughout his campaign to get someone to pursue the oath and residency issues he repeatedly was faced with a “pervasive go-along-to get-along” rebuff from individuals well aware of both situations, but who chose to turn a blind eye to the situation.
It seemed easy for many to hide behind the “atypical” situation of the Sheriff being technically an employee of the State. As early as March 28 (now almost 6 months ago) Mr. McMahon had informed the Governor of the situation and urged him to take action to replace Fitzgerald.
At a time when the 2016 election is on all of minds, a major question remains from the 2014 Sheriff’s election: Was the election tampered with? . An April 19, 2016 HoCo Times article reported improperly used union leave cost taxpayers more than $8,000 and granted Fitzgerald “county-subsidized campaign labor” not available to opponents Did the Board of Elections knowingly allow Fitzgerald to run despite questions of his residency? (He had after all been receiving the Homestead Tax credit in Worcester County since 2008 and many seemed to acknowledge being aware of that fact.) Was it appropriate to ‘force’ deputies to work on his campaign and to punish those who refused? Mr. McMahon received 42,692 votes from the citizens of Howard County. How many more might he have received if the public was aware of Fitzgerald’s bigoted persona, mistreatment of staff, and misuse of deputies for campaigning??? If YOU voted for Fitzgerald, how do you feel about your vote now?
A number of people with whom I’ve spoken (registered Democrats in fact) point to this situation as perhaps the result of having a single party in control for too long, making a jurisdiction ripe for corruption. I know that it has both amused and saddened me to see Democrats fervently scurry to gain distance from Fitzgerald. For years he was readily endorsed even by those he insulted—out of party loyalty. For years Ken Ulman referred to Fitz as “my guy.” I wonder how he feels about how Fitz referred to him? For years Fitz blasted his primary election opponents as ‘not true Democrats.’ HE was the true Democrat. Clearly no one wants him to be their poster child–to be a part of his racial, sexual, and ethnic bigotry. But Republicans are not without blame here, for they too seemed to be knowledgeable but unwilling to take action. Going along to get along is not necessarily the best practice.
We can be pleased that HoCo’s elected officials have asked Fitzgerald to resign. We can be pleased that individual citizens rallied last Friday evening and again today at the court house to demand Fitzgerald step down. (An artist/protester was snapped with this poster) Individuals in attendance at today’s noon time rally reported that former employees of the Sheriff’s Office made their stories of abuse known to the press. I’m told the wife of a whistle blower recounted WHY Fitz never took the Oath of Office in 2014. According to her account Fitz refused to stand on the stage with an openly gay sheriff from another county the day A.G. Frosh was administering the oath. That proves it—he doesn’t discriminate against which minority to discriminate against–he is an equal opportunity bigot, someone for whom there is no room in Howard County.
It’s important to remember that while the report on Fitz’s behavior was released just last week, it isn’t something that just happened. Many people have known about it for a long time. Many deputies confided information to Mr. McMahon over the past half year. They did not want to go public for fear of losing their jobs or having their lives made more miserable. They cautioned him to be careful about his own safety as he continued to pursue this. That fact makes this soooo much more reprehensible.
Recognize and refuse to accept uncivil behavior from within our midst, demand change, vote people not party—and meet me on the high road,