Sher­iff Price to re­sign, but con­tin­u­ing re-elec­tion bid

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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

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