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Howard County sheriff reaches agreement for resignation, retirement

Howard County Sheriff James F. Fitzgerald. (Howard County Sheriff's Office photo)

Howard County Sheriff James F. Fitzgerald. (Howard County Sheriff’s Office photo)

Embattled Howard County Sheriff James F. Fitzgerald could leave office by the end of the week under an agreement announced by the chairman of the Howard County Council.

Councilman Calvin Ball, in an email Tuesday afternoon, said an agreement has been reached with Fitzgerald that would result in the sheriff resigning from office by Oct. 15 and retiring within 30 days.

Ball said the agreement is expected to be signed by the end of the day with the following terms:

— Fitzgerald will immediately retire within 30 days;

— Fitzgerald’s last day in the office will be Saturday;

— Prior to his resignation, Fitzgerald will issue an order reinstating Charles Gable to his prior position as lieutenant, effective Monday; and

— Payment in the sum of $58,350, to Gable, representing back pay for the period of Feb. 9, to Oct. 15 and reflect an annual merit increase that would have been earned on July 1.

“This wasn’t just one call or conversation or press release,” Ball said in a statement. “This was a difficult process. I believed from the instant the issue came to light that resignation was the only option, and I needed the Sheriff to see that as well.”

Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, who also was a vocal advocate for Fitzgerald’s resignation or impeachment, praised the agreement.

“Think that’s a good thing for the citizens of Howard County,” Kittleman said. “I want to commend everyone in the community for standing up when they learned f the sheriff’s actions and comments. I think it was because of our total community coming together, both Republican and Democrat, community leaders, residents, all complaining and being very concerned about this that led to this day.”

“Now it’s an opportunity for us to find a replacement,” Kittleman said.

Kittleman praised Gable, calling him a hero, and saying the county wouldn’t have been aware of Fitzgerald’s actions and comments if the lieutenant had not filed a complaint.

That appointment will fall to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan once the office is vacated.

Complete details of the resignation agreement have not been released. It is not clear if Fitzgerald will receive and financial incentives to leave office before the end of the current term.

Fitzgerald has been subject to calls for resignation and efforts to impeach him in the 2017 General Assembly session following the release of a county Office of Human Rights report outlining allegations of the use of racial slurs, hostile work environments and harassment.

“I appreciate the call for impeachment; however, this can be a lengthy process,” Ball said in his statement. “Therefore, I began engaging in discussions with Mr. Fitzgerald, following the release of the Human Rights report, to discuss the voluntary conciliatory process, as outlined in our Howard County Code. I spoke with him about the pain of our community and how we needed to turn the page on this chapter of prejudice. The intent of actions and words is irrelevant in the face of such a horrendous impact.

“The ideals of diversity and inclusion that we promote in Howard County will never be fully realized if we avoid difficult conversations because they make us uncomfortable. Some hurtful things were said, things that I take quite personally as a black man with a beautiful black family.