Sheriff Price to resign, but continuing re-election bid
CHESTERTOWN — While still seeking re-election in November, Kent County Sheriff John F. Price is resigning his post effective Sept. 30.
Price’s decision to terminate his employment with the county is the result of the requirements of the pension plan in which he is currently enrolled. After 45 business days, he will be able to start back to work.
“I want people to know, I’m still a candidate and I still want to be sheriff,” Price said in an interview Thurs- day, Sept. 20, noting that he will spend his time off campaigning for re-election.
Price, a Republican, is running unopposed for another four-year term. If re-elected, he will be sworn in Dec. 4 and back at the job he has held these last 24 years.
The Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System is just what its name says it is. Members of LEOPS with 25 to 30 years of creditable service are eligible for a Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, that allows employees to begin collecting retirement benefits that are placed in an account earning compound interest.
According to the Maryland State Pension and Retirement System, those who enroll in DROP may only continue their employment for the lesser of the following: five years, the difference between 30 years of service and the member’s creditable service or a term the member sets.
“When your DROP participation ends, you must terminate employment,” a state pension system pamphlet explaining DROP states. “Remember, if you choose to participate, the decision is irrevocable.”
Price said his term in
DROP is set to end in April. If he were to be re-elected, he would have to resign his post four months into a new term. That could leave his future uncertain as a gubernatorial appointment could be made to fill the vacancy.
He is allowed to terminate his employment early, which he has opted to do, setting Sept. 30 as his last day. That gives him a 45-business day window before he would be sworn in for his next term on Dec. 4.
“I want the citizens of Kent County to know that this is not something I want to do, but something I must do to be in compliance with State Pension law,” Price said in a written statement. “There are no other options which will allow me to seek election for the next term and serve it in its entirety. This does not alter my candidacy in the next election.”
Price made his announce- ment to the Kent County Sheriff’s Office staff Thursday morning, Sept. 20. Also in attendance was County Administrator Shelley Heller.
Price said that prior to the full staff meeting, he met with Capt. J. Brian Kirby, commander of the sheriff’s office Patrol Division. Kirby will take over administrative responsibilities for the sheriff’s office during Price’s mandatory separation.
“It is with heavy heart and some disappointment that I end my current employment with the County. I leave the office in the competent hands of Undersheriff J. Brian Kirby, who will take leadership of all functions of the Kent County Sheriff’s Office in my absence. I am confident that Undersheriff Kirby will assume the same level of service to the citizens of Kent County,” Price said in a statement.
Sgt. Harry A. Kettner will serve as acting patrol commander. Lt. Dennis Hickman will remain commander of the Criminal Investigations Division. James Culp will continue as chief deputy.
Speaking Thursday night, Sept. 20, Kirby said he had “no inkling” of Price’s decision.
“I think it’s the noble thing to do,” Kirby said of Price separating from office at the end of his current four-year term instead of having to do so early into a next term.
In his Sept. 20 interview, Price said he thinks he shocked a lot of people with his announcement. He said he wanted to make sure he gave the county proper notice of at least 10 days.
“It’s not something I want to do,” Price said. “I’ve got to do this in order to be in compliance with the law.”
Price said that when he signed up for DROP, he thought it was the best retirement plan option available at the time. He knew the day was coming for the last two years that he would have to terminate his employment and he has been making preparations.
He also sought remedies from the state, including a possible exemption he said has been granted to other Maryland pension system members, but with no success. He was told a bill passed this year regarding LEOPS did not apply to him. He worked with Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, on a bill in 2017 that would provide an exemption for sheriffs in the DROP program, but he said it fell on deaf ears.
“There was no way I could get around this legally and ethically without doing what I’m doing,” Price said. “One bill passed and one failed. And the one that passed, they wouldn’t let me do.”
As sheriff, Price regularly attended town council meetings in Betterton, Galena and Millington, which have no municipal police departments and where the sheriff’s office performs special overtime patrols. He said he plans to continue attending such meetings as a private citizen and candidate for office.
Price said he always wanted to be in law enforcement. He started with the Kent County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy on July 15, 1979 at the age of 21. His first call was a fatal plane crash at Camp Tockwogh. He said a camper’s father was a pilot and flew with the child’s mother to drop off a care package. When departing, the plane stalled on takeoff and crashed, he said.
Less than a year later, Price moved to the Chestertown Police Department, where the pay was better. He spent 10 years there, some of that time under former chief Marty Stetson, now a member of the Chestertown council. Kirby served with Price at the CPD beginning in January 1985.
Price made what he described as a lateral move back to the Kent County Sheriff’s Office in 1990, with Kirby following that year. Four years later, Price ran for sheriff and won the post he has held for six terms. Kirby was named patrol commander when Price was elected.
“I am honored that the people of Kent County have trusted me as their Sheriff over the past 24 years and I remain passionate about keeping Kent County safe. I know my success is largely a reflection of the capable men and women of the Sheriff’s Office and their commitment to excellence. I hope the citizens of Kent County will give me their vote of confidence in November as I am eager to serve the community as your Sheriff,” Price said in a statement.
JOHN F. PRICE
J. BRIAN KIRBY