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The Nose

There Is Power in a Union

Posted 1/1/2003

It was a huge news story, and the accompanying Dec. 20 news conference was packed with members of the media from both Baltimore and Washington: Gov.-elect Robert Ehrlich had lured Police Commissioner Edward Norris away from his post with the Baltimore City Police to become the superintendent of the Maryland State Police. But lost in the media hoopla surrounding Norris' imminent departure was the news that Ehrlich appointed two other men to head state police agencies as well: retired Maryland state trooper Douglas DeLeaver was tapped to head the 290-member Maryland Natural Resources Police; and Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police president Gary McLhinney was appointed to head the approximately 400-member Maryland Transportation Authority Police.DeLeaver's appointment to a top police rank came as no surprise to anyone clued in to the police grapevine. The only surprise was that he wasn't given the state police job, since it had been rumored almost since Election Day that the job was his. His qualifications are impeccable: He spent 22 years at the state police, retiring in 1992 as a lieutenant; he was immediately appointed a captain at Natural Resources Police, then took over as the head of the Maryland Transit Administration Police in 2000.

The stunner of the day was the appointment of McLhinney, who never rose above the rank of officer in his 22 years in Baltimore. As Fraternal Order of Police president, McLhinney commanded a modest staff of three secretaries.

What in the world, the Nose wondered, qualified McLhinney to run any police agency, let alone the agency responsible for the safety of both BWI Airport and the Port of Baltimore?

To satisfy our curiosity, the Nose asked Ehrlich at the press conference why he felt a man who had never even been a sergeant--the lowest level for a supervisor in the city department--would be capable of running an entire police agency? In answering the question, Ehrlich used himself as an example. He noted that he had "always been a legislator," but as governor, he would be running the entire executive apparatus of state government. He called McLhinney an "incredible leader" who had a "keen sense of public relations. One of the factors I look for [in an agency head] is their ability to deal with the press."

That baffled the Nose. Being able to gladhand the press does not make it any easier to head an agency charged with protecting the port, making sure terrorists don't get on airplanes with weapons, and guarding the state's toll roads and bridges.

The Nose suspects that there's more to this promotion than Ehrlich--or anyone else--is letting on publicly. McLhinney was an early, outspoken supporter of Ehrlich's campaign. The city Fraternal Order of Police board, which he controls, voted to endorse Ehrlich's candidacy, even though only several hundred of the 4,800 union members were polled about the selection. He made frequent campaign appearances with Ehrlich and had several union members make campaign commercials for the candidate on their days off (only one, showing an officer in full uniform endorsing the governor-elect, actually made it on the air). He also did something which may have violated state law and is now under investigation by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 20): He had on-duty officers, detailed to the Fraternal Order, working in the Ehrlich campaign. Maryland law prohibits government employees from participating in political campaigns while on city time.

Ehrlich, when told of the investigation, of which he was unaware, shook his head in apparent disgust and said, "Puh-leeze. Give me a break!" McLhinney says Montanarelli's office hasn't yet contacted him and "in talking to our attorneys we believe what we did was legal."

"I think supervisors in police agencies need to be leaders," McLhinney says. "I think I've proven my leadership in leading [a labor organization]."

Running the police-union local primarily involves insuring the contract with the city is enforced and that officers' rights are protected. That involves a lot of time spent with FOP lawyers, but very little actually supervising employees. And, it entails no involvement with planning and executing the mission of a police agency. Where should officers be deployed? What kind of training should be selected for them? How should the agency's budget be spent? What about problems with overtime? The disciplinary process? Advanced training and deployment for any threat of terrorism at BWI and the port?

"I don't think anyone's qualified to know everything, but you have to be able to lead people," McLhinney says.

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