The union representing Calvert County sheriff's deputies is threatening legal action to prevent the county commissioners from rescinding a salary increase that was scheduled to take effect Friday.
Sheriff Mike Evans (R) said he was angered after learning last week that three of the commissioners had informally decided to undo a pay increase that had been passed by a 4 to 1 vote in open session this spring as part of the budget for the current fiscal year.
"Doing this in the eleventh hour was wrong," he said. "The money was budgeted, the money was approved in a public forum, and I don't think they can change it without going back to a public forum."
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown), who opposes rescinding the pay increase, said the commissioners had been informally polled about the issue by e-mail, telephone and in person since June 24. She said it was inappropriate to undo part of the budget for the new fiscal year, which began Friday, without public input.
"I don't understand how any action can be taken in private to reverse something that was done in open session," she said.
At issue is the salary for 12 deputies who received promotions Monday. Under the budget that the commissioners approved June 7, the deputies were to receive increases of between 6.5 and 7.5 percent. That would have cost about $75,000, Evans said.
But Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby) said he was unaware when he voted on the budget that the increases for the deputies were far higher than those for most other county employees. The deputies would be in line to receive increases of 3 to 3.5 percent under the regular pay scale, Evans said.
"I felt that pay raises should be calculated just like the rest of the county employees," Clark said.
The deputies said that they had been counting on the higher pay raises and that it was unfair to reduce them at the last moment.
One of the deputies affected is Thomas Phelps, president of the union, the Calvert County lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. He said he would receive a raise of about $3,000 less under the normal county employee pay scale.
He said he had made investment decisions based on the higher increase; another deputy had planned to build an addition to his house using money from the raise.
The commissioners' apparent change of heart, Phelps said, has created uncertainty for the officers. He said the county's budget office will not answer his questions about how much money he is earning this year.
"When I go to work tomorrow, I don't know how much I'm making," he said. "No one knows what is happening."
He said the union's board has met with lawyers and is prepared to take legal action to ensure that the deputies receive the salaries he believes they were promised.
The issue came to light when County Administrator James J. Allman sent an e-mail to the commissioners at 9:39 a.m. June 24, Shaw and Evans said.
"Sorry to interrupt your vacation from the courthouse, but we need your guidance that relates to the step increases that go into effect for next pay period," Allman wrote, according to a copy of the e-mail that Evans read over the phone to a Washington Post reporter.
Evans said he first learned about the issue Monday at a meeting Allman asked him to attend.
"I was totally blindsided," Evans said. Allman did not return calls seeking comment left at his office and on his cell phone.
Said Clark: "I was always under the impression that [the sheriff's] promotions were just like all the other county employees. If I missed something or mistakenly misunderstood it, then, well, I did."
Evans said Shaw understood the pay increases and said the other commissioners should have, too.
He said commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) told him that he does not support rescinding the pay increase. Hale and Commissioners Wilson H. Parran (D-At Large) and Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) did not return calls seeking comment.