Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler on Wednesday defended the appointment of a key aide to disgraced former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold as his top legislative and community outreach employee.
The sheriff also said he will stand by campaign promises to keep the agency’s aviation unit and helicopter in service for at least one more year, even as a part-time civilian appointee engages in a review of the unit, its utility, and its cost.
Gahler on Tuesday announced the appointment of Erik Robey, Leopold’s former chief of staff, as Community and Legislation Liason. In that role, Gahler said Robey will be his primary link to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and the Harford County Council and advance the sheriff’s legislative agenda, as well as spearhead the agency’s community outreach efforts.
Also announced was the appointment of Robert McGainey as a part-time, temporary HR specialist who will conduct a review of the aviation unit and the Eagle 1 helicopter, unveiled by former Sheriff Jesse Bane just over a year ago. According to biographical information released by the Sheriff’s Office, McGainey retired from the Maryland State Police as a lieutenant colonel with more than 34 years of service, including 20 years in the state police Aviation Command.
Both positions are civilian appointments. Gahler said he made the appointments directly, rather than conducting an open hiring process, to expedite the start of their work.
“I had specific people in mind that I knew had the talent to come in and do the job on day one,” Gahler said in a brief interview with The Dagger Wednesday afternoon. “I intend on making changes, and making changes quickly.”
Robey, a Bel Air resident, joins the Sheriff’s Office after a stint at Crovato Products, a Temple Hills-based automotive service company. Prior to that, he spent more than 10 years in various positions across Anne Arundel County government, ultimately rising to become Leopold’s “defacto” deputy campaign director in his successful 2010 re-election bid, according to court documents.
Robey was Leopold’s chief of staff, and was serving in that position when Leopold was indicted in March 2012 on a spate of misconduct charges centered around his misuse of a police protection detail for tasks such as investigating political rivals, deploying his own campaign signs and removing others, and ferrying him to public venues for sexual encounters with girlfriends.
According to reports at the time, Robey testified that he dropped off campaign signs at Leopold’s house for police to distribute, and received dossiers on the county executive’s political enemies prepared by police. Both activities were central in a Howard County judge’s January 2013 verdict against Leopold on two counts of misconduct in office.
According to one report, Robey testified that he accepted a deal of immunity in exchange for his testimony. However, in the verdict, Judge Dennis Sweeney noted that Robey “told [Leopold] that he did not think having the officers put in signs was appropriate and suggested that the campaign hire a college student to do it instead of having the officers do it,” but that Leopold rejected the suggestion.
Gahler said he was aware of Robey’s involvement in the earlier case when he approached him for the Sheriff’s Office position.
“It certainly gave me pause,” he said. “I knew it would come up as an issue. We had long discussions about it. Unfortunately, he was in a bad situation with an employer—and I don’t know all the details of the case, I know he [Leopold] resigned, he was found guilty—but he [Robey] was asked to do things he shouldn’t have been asked to do and didn’t feel he had the ability to say no.”
“That is ancient history in my mind,” Gahler said. “There is a great difference between that situation and the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.”
Gahler said he first met and became friends with Robey approximately 18 months ago, placing their meeting in the summer of 2013, several months after Leopold voluntarily resigned from office following his conviction and sentencing to a $100,000 fine and two years in jail with all but 30 days in jail and 30 additional days of house arrest suspended.
Among Robey’s primary legislative tasks will be serving as Gahler’s champion on Second Amendment issues. In an August letter to The Dagger, Gahler said he would work to help repeal state gun control laws and would not enforce “any unconstitutional law that infringes on the Second Amendment Rights of Harford County Citizens and will use the power of the Office to fight the legal battles needed to have such laws repealed or thrown out.”
Gahler said Wednesday that additional details on those efforts would be forthcoming; the state General Assembly is set to convene Jan. 14.
Robey will also be charged with building on existing relationships between the community and the Sheriff’s Office. Gahler did not offer exact specifics on any upcoming initiatives, beyond a series of “Coffee Chats with the Sheriff” planned for the near future.
“I’ve credited Sheriff Bane with building bridges into the community, and I want to build on that,” the sheriff said. “Mr. Robey is the person to do that.”
McGainey’s position will constitute 24 hours per week to start, Gahler said, with an option to adjust the amount of time he works based on need. He will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the unit and the helicopter, weighing whether it duplicates services already provided by other agencies such as the Maryland State Police, and whether the unit’s value is worth its cost of operation. Gahler said McGainey’s findings would likely be made public along with the sheriff’s final decision, but did not set a timeline for completion of the review.
“I committed to maintaining the aviation unit for a year,” he said. “It [the review] will take as long as it takes. The process of bringing it here according to Sheriff Bane was 18 months; it won’t take that long.”
Fed up in Harford says
Robey is a seasoned professional who was caught up in an ugly mess. Sounds like we’re getting him cheap.
I hope he’ll decide to scrap these 40 year old helicopters, Harford will eventually be able to buy state of the art equipment when the timing is right and we don’t have to depend on drug seizures to keep one in the air.
Echo Chamber says
Martin Watcher says
December 9, 2014 at 8:59 pm
The Sheriff of Harford County just hired an admitted criminal that only escaped charges because he was given immunity to testify against his boss? Erik Robey was the former Chief of Staff for John Leopold, the Anne Arundel County Executive ousted for having police officers empty his colostomy bag and keep his girlfriends from finding out about each other, not to mention what may have not happened in the back seat of a car parked at the Annapolis mall.
That’s right, Erik Robey testified on the stand an according to what he said, he did political work on county time, including recording a robocall and having the county police loading campaign signs. He also did fundraising work on county time.
On top of all that, Erik Robey put together “dossiers” of his boss’s political opponents and used the county police force to run background checks on Leopold’s opponents.
I don’t think this is the kind of guy that Jeff Gahler wants to be associated with.
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Gotta GO! says
December 10, 2014 at 6:29 am
Erik Robey has to GO! If he was involved in the AA County and used police to make “dossiers” on people. He is no better then the people that are arrested. Why would someone be hired with that background? He avoided prosecution by getting immunity. AND NOW HE IS GOING TO BE IN A POSITION OF AUTHORITY AT THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE. I wouldn’t even let him walk my dog!
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Mom of 2 says
He had no background done. I know that for sure!!
Anne Arundel County Voice says
I have known Erik Robey for many years and worked with him on a number of community and veterans issues. He is a constant professional and a good public servant. Unfortunately, he worked for a County Executive who thought he was above the law. Erik will do good things for the Sheriff’s Office and for the people of Harford County.
Such a good guy that didn’t report illegal or unethical behavior, right?
Martin Watcher says
He was such a nice guy, that when the accusations first came out, his reaction was to sick his lawyer on the victims of Leopold’s extreme behavior. http://www.capitalgazette.com/cg2-arc-c2e8eb83-0945-5f2a-9672-d98985b7a89a-20120915,0,6186244.story
And now he’s claiming to be the victim of Leopold too.
Wow that is one damning article accusing Robey of sexual harassment.
Good job Jeff Gahler on your not actually looking for the best candidate but hiring your friends.
How about hiring some relatives next? Didn’t he promise to put more officers on the street? Well so far the back office of do nothing at the sheriffs office is growing larger by the day.
It’s day 11 Jeff and you have done everything you promised you wouldn’t to get elected. Well done sir the sheep applaud your win.
Echo Chamber says
Read the affidavit linked here. Its full of references to the conduct of Mr Robey.
One hopes that neither Mr. Robey nor anyone else will be required to choose between participating in criminality and keeping his job.
way to go jeffy, we look forward to further poor decisions, keep that bane ball rolling. who you gonna hire next, ed norris
And I thought all you Gahler supporters said things were going to be different when he became sheriff. Looks to me he is just assembling all his old retired state trooper buddies so they can double dip and have more government paychecks. Yea this looks to be another great candidate that the people of Harford County have elected. He and Slutzky both need to go already.
Mike Welsh says
I have stated in a previous post that I did not believe the selection of Mr. Robey was a good choice given Mr. Robey previous involvement in Anne Arundel. I still believe Sheriff Gahler has made an unwise choice with appointing Mr. Robey.
Sheriff Gahler stated during his campaign that he would conduct a top to bottom evaluation/assessment of all entities within the HCSO and, after that assessment, make appropriate changes to provide better policing/public safety. I never expected him to make those changes in his first two weeks in office. I did expect him to change his top command staff immediately and appoint people who had demonstrated competent leadership qualities at senior levels of management. With one exception, I believe he has done that.
I will await the further changes that are expected to occur in the 4 to 6 weeks time frame. Then we will see just exactly where Sheriff Gahler plans to take the HCSO. If Sheriff Gahler proves to be just another Jesse Bane, I will not hesitate to say so.
cant be any worse then some of the people already employed within. I’m giving him time to either earn my respect or vote in a different person. Just don’t give this guy the keys to collect information on anyone! Everyone deserves a second chance, but fire the guy, if he does it again! The civilian brought in to evaluate eagle one seems to be the right choice. Where were these civilian employees when bane was in office? The sheriff needs to remember that the agency is made up of everyone and all choices are not going to be easy.
Five Iron says
Wow, wonder where all the Bane Bashers are? They seem to have slithered under a rock or else they are applying for positions as Hazzard County Council Security so the great unwashed don’t dare approach HRH Barry or possibly they are patrolling DC looking for random joints King Andy has decreed illegal. All politics is local and these guys are certainly showing how dirty it is both locally and nationally. Bring on 2016 to sweep them out!
hc resident says
Please get rid of the helicopter. This is the second night in a row that I have had to listen to that thing flying in circles over B.A. it is so damned annoying and at $300 an hour, what waste of money. It also was overhead the entire time of the B.A. christmas parade and ruined in. Time to send the big play toy back.