The “mayor” of Bel Air and chief of the county’s busiest volunteer fire company will now serve as spokesman for Harford’s largest police force.
In addition to his roles as chairman of the Bel Air Town Commissioners and Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company’s chief, Eddie Hopkins will take over as the Harford County Sheriff’s Office public information officer effective Nov. 26.
Hopkins’ hiring marks a return to the agency at which he spent 29 years as a uniformed officer, retiring with the rank of lieutenant, and several more as a civilian employee. The job is not a new one for him—he was the agency’s chief spokesman as a sworn officer from 1994 until 2002, and again as a civilian from 2003 to 2005.
But the new full-time job may result in Hopkins giving up some of his other responsibilities, he said Wednesday, conceding that a conflict between the three during severe crises could be possible.
Sheriff Jesse Bane said Hopkins was one of two finalists for the position from a pool of 12 applicants. In his interview, Hopkins and Bane discussed his other duties at length, and said Hopkins assured him that his role with the Sheriff’s Office would come first.
“It would not have been right of me to tell him to give everything up to be the PIO,” Bane said. “Having several different responsibilities is nothing new for him.”
Bane said other Sheriff’s Office sworn deputies have run for or held office while in uniform, notably James Harkins, who served two terms as the District 35A representative to the Maryland House of Delegates while an investigator for the agency.
In the coming weeks, the Bel Air board of commissioners will undergo its annual reorganization. Traditionally, the chairman of the board is the town’s informal “mayor,” and holds the position for two years before passing it on to another commissioner. Hopkins was first elected to the board in 2007 and won re-election last fall; he was voted as chairman by the other commissioners at that time.
Hopkins said it is possible that he may choose to give up the chairmanship at that reorganization meeting, or may be urged to do so by his colleagues.
“I would like to stay another year, but we’ll see what the body at large says,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins has been a member of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company for more than 35 years. The company holds an annual election for fire chief, with this year’s vote by all eligible members scheduled to take place Dec. 4.
The company handles approximately 8,000 calls each year, 2,500 of them fire-related, Hopkins said. His direct, on-scene supervision as chief is required in only a handful of the most serious cases, he said; his primary duties involve management of the agency and reviewing post-action reports, among other tasks. In addition, he said he has faith in the abilities of his subordinate officers to handle incidents effectively.
Hopkins said he believed that his day-to-day responsibilities with the Sheriff’s Office would not conflict with his duties as an elected public official, or with the public trust placed in him as fire chief. However, he said severe events could strain the balance.
“If you were to have a perfect storm, yeah, there would be potential for conflict,” he said. “If you were to have a superstorm Sandy come through, I could find myself pulled in several different directions.”
However, he countered that his role as one of five town commissioners in such a situation would be largely making financial decisions, such as increasing budget allocations; the specifics of the town’s response would fall to Town Administrator Chris Schlehr.
Also, his new job may keep him in the area more than his last one. Hopkins left the Sheriff’s Office to take up an opportunity with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, based in Reisterstown. He was MEMA’s deputy director of operations and director of communications until this July, when he was released from service with the agency by a new, incoming administration. In addition to a sizable commute, Hopkins was occasionally deployed to assist with large-scale disasters, keeping him away from his local roles.
Though he campaigned with Bob Benedetto during the other man’s run for sheriff in 2006 and was Benedetto’s pick for chief deputy, Hopkins credited Sheriff Jesse Bane with evaluating his application fairly.
“I have no desire to run for the office of sheriff at this point in my life. I wish I’d never left the Sheriff’s Office, but I had an incredible opportunity to serve under Governor Ehrlich and then Governor O’Malley,” Hopkins said. “If he [Bane] has any misgivings, he has set them aside.”