When it comes to Frederick County politics, not many subjects have been more contentious recently than the 287(g) agreement, and the topic was again a focal point of two meetings in Winchester Hall this week.
At Tuesday’s County Council meeting, roughly a few dozen people filled seats in the first-floor hearing room at Winchester Hall, most of them wearing red shirts. Their objective: to show support for Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and the 287(g) program.
The 287(g) program between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the sheriff’s office provides training for sheriff’s deputies and allows them to ask about immigration status for anyone booked into the county’s adult detention center and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.
One speaker Tuesday was former WTOP reporter David Burd. Burd called himself the “canary in the coal mine” for council members, saying he spent many years reporting in the county and knew “regular” citizens, not just political elites and the upper class.
He added that he didn’t like the tone some in the public were using toward Jenkins and the 287(g) program.
Earlier this month, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and some council members announced that the county would conduct an audit of the program, specifically at county funds used in the program.
Burd didn’t object to that audit. He did, however, support Jenkins and the program.
“I’m going to be your canary, and listen to me carefully, because I’m not the only one that thinks this,” Burd said. “Chuck Jenkins is the gold standard in law enforcement. You may not like his rough and gruff personality, but there’s a reason why a lot of us move to Frederick County.”
He added that if the County Council and any other officials want to consider ending the agreement, they should leave it up to a referendum and county voters.
Several other speakers Tuesday shared Burd’s opinion. That included Clark Price, former police chief of Brunswick.
“We’re at a crossroads in the nation, in this state,” Price said. “287(g) has been a successful program, and I completely support the sheriff with it. He’s out front and doing the right thing.”
The day before, discussion about the program struck a different tone. John Daniels, vice chair of the Charter Review Commission, asked County Attorney John Mathias about a provision in the charter concerning county contracts.
Under Article 4 of the charter, the duties of the county executive include, in part, “signing or causing to be signed on the County’s behalf all deeds, contracts, and other instruments.”
Daniels said he had gotten a lot of inquiries about that provision from county residents and requested an opinion from Mathias on how his office interprets that provision as it relates to the 287(g) program.
Mathias agreed to draft an opinion, but said the sheriff’s office operates under the state charter. The county is obligated to pay “necessary expenses” to run the sheriff’s office, which has been a legal gray area, Mathias said.
“Even if you put something in the charter, it’s not going to be binding on the sheriff because state law overrides it,” Mathias said of any possible changes to the charter regarding 287(g).
County official discusses timeline for legislative priorities
County Council members will soon have to determine what they want the Frederick County delegation to prioritize in 2020.
Roger Wilson, government affairs and public policy director in County Executive Jan Gardner’s office and a city of Frederick alderman, detailed a timeline for council members, including an Oct. 9 town hall Gardner will host on legislative priorities.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said because of scheduling conflicts, council members would not be able to submit a package of legislative priorities by Sept. 17. That would be delayed until Oct. 1, she said.
Wilson urged council members to stay in contact with him and delegation members when they convene next year.
“The 90-day session is fast-moving, dynamic, and I would hope that we stay in close contact, communication,” Wilson said. “Especially when there are position statements being asked for from the county, so I’m hoping there will be close collaboration during that 90-day session.”