March 7, 2012

JOHN R. LEOPOLD, the Anne Arundel county executive, protested loudly last year when the state proposed moving the headquarters of its Department of Housing and Community Development from his county to neighboring Prince George’s. The move, said Mr. Leopold, one of Maryland’s most prominent Republicans, would squander millions of dollars.

Now it appears that Mr. Leopold is no stranger to wasting public funds. An indictment filed last week by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office charges Mr. Leopold with using county police officers on his security detail to run interference for his regular sexual dalliances with a county employee; to ensure that his live-in partner didn’t cross paths with his occasional girlfriend; to maintain dossiers on his political opponents; and to run political errands on his behalf.

According to the indictment, the security detail racked up more than $10,000 in overtime, over and above its budgeted cost, when the unmarried Mr. Leopold underwent back surgery in 2010 and needed the officers to make sure his two lovers didn’t meet at his hospital room.

Allegations involving sleazy politicians are all too common in Maryland. Still, an immediate question arising from the Leopold affair is this: Why does the county executive of Anne Arundel, a relatively peaceable and mostly suburban jurisdiction that is home to the U.S. Naval Academy, need a security detail?

Mr. Leopold is not the only county executive in Maryland to use such a detail; his counterparts in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also have them, as does the mayor of Baltimore. But the chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Fairfax County, which is the largest jurisdiction in the Washington area and in Virginia, seems to get around fine on her own steam, without police escort, as do most members of Congress — even after the shooting last year of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

What makes county executives in Maryland so special? And at a time of budget-cutting, shouldn’t these security details be scrapped, complete with their tinted-windowed SUVs and police officers acting like Secret Service agents? In the absence of credible, ongoing threats to an official’s personal security, it’s hard to see how they’re needed.

Mr. Leopold, who is entitled to the presumption of innocence, denies any wrongdoing. However, he was also the subject of news reports in 2009 when a police officer, responding to a 911 call reporting sexual activity in a car parked at a shopping mall during rush hour, came across Mr. Leopold in the back seat.

If the case goes to trial, it’s possible that a jury may regard the charges against him to be more salacious than criminal. Still, the county’s police unions have called for Mr. Leopold’s resignation. He ought to consider it in light of what’s best for the county and voters he serves, whom he has embarrassed by his actions.