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Smithsburg awaits report on new police chief

May 27, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

SMITHSBURG - Nearly three months after the Smithsburg Town Council voted to hire Ralf Berger conditionally as the town's new police chief, a background report detailing his work history has not been completed.

Mayor Tommy Bowers commissioned the report from the Washington County Sheriff's Department. He expected it to be finished last month.

The previous Town Council agreed to hire a police chief before a background check was completed because the job had been vacant for about five months after former Chief Vincent duCellier left to accept a training position in Kosovo.

Bowers said he didn't know the reason for the delay of the background report.

Berger told Bowers during a special council meeting last Tuesday the Sheriff's Department was awaiting results of a urine test and a physical exam.

Sgt. Mark Faith of the Sheriff's Department declined to comment on the background report and referred questions to Sheriff Charles Mades, who was unavailable.

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Smithsburg Town Clerk/Secretary Betsy Martin said she was under the impression from talking to personnel at the Sheriff's Department the report would be completed soon.

Bowers said that when the report is completed, he will not discuss the contents during an open meeting because it contains personnel information. He said he will give council members access to the report but no copies.

Berger, a 15-year veteran of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, was hired as Smithsburg's police chief March 7.

Frederick County Sheriff James Hagy dismissed Berger in April 1995, following a four-day administrative hearing. He lost an appeal to Frederick County Circuit Court in January 1997.

Berger was hired by the Smithsburg Town Council on a 4-1 vote.

Councilmen Charlie Slick, Mike Rohrer, James Cunningham and David Williams voted to hire Rohrer. The dissenting vote was cast by Councilman Thomas Hornbecker, who said he did not vote for Berger because the background check hadn't been completed.

Since that vote, a town election was held and a new Town Council was sworn in last week. Slick and Rohrer were the only holdovers from the previous council.

The three new council members, Elizabeth Mann, Jerome Martin and Jake Johnson, said they are undecided about keeping Berger and have received conflicting comments from the public.

"Council has to see a complete background check before voting on anything," Martin said.

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