- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2011

If political parties cannot win over voters, perhaps just trying to confuse them might work.

Delegate Timothy D. Hugo is the latest Republican to enter the fray over Fairfax County Sheriff Stan D. Barry’s participation in a special retirement system county officials say was never intended to be used for elected officials.

The Fairfax GOP has seized on the issue in the run-up to the Nov. 8 general election between Sheriff Barry, a Democrat first elected in 1999, and his GOP opponent, Bill Cooper.

Sheriff Barry in 2009 enrolled in the county’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, which essentially lets employees who work beyond their normal retirement date to receive some of their benefits in a lump sum instead of earning additional years toward their service. At the end of a three-year period, however, employees are supposed to collect their money and retire.

Republicans have howled that Sheriff Barry’s enrollment is a “blatant abuse” of a system intended for career officials and that he is “fleecing” taxpayers out of about $1 million.

Mr. Hugo, Fairfax Republican, recently announced that he plans to introduce legislation barring elected officials from entering special retirement plans offered by the state and localities.

“He’s the one who signed up for the program,” Mr. Hugo said. “I don’t usually get into things like this, but this one kind of struck me.”

The GOP has set up a DropStanBarry.org website, and “Drop Stan Barry” yard signs are peppered throughout the county.

“There’s no issue, so they had to create one,” Sheriff Barry said. “Quite candidly, it’s not just an exaggeration. It’s outright lies. They just keep perpetuating them.”

Mr. Cooper declined to comment specifically on Sheriff Barry’s situation.

“I believe an elected official should have the trust and the confidence of the public,” he said. “My campaign for sheriff will continue to work hard to gain the trust of the people of Fairfax County.”

Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said that issue might not resonate with voters during the campaign.

“Most people understand that [this is] entirely different from misusing public resources, traveling on the public dime,” Mr. Rozell said. “That’s what really gets voters irate.”

Under Sheriff Barry’s arrangement, signed off on by the county attorney’s office, he wouldn’t collect a lump sum until his term was over, his benefits would not gather interest and he would not accumulate service years for retirement. He has also said he would serve as sheriff even if his salary and benefits were voided after the election.

Mr. Rozell said it would come down to voters understanding the nuances of the issue - an uphill battle, given the nature of the subject.

“Customarily with an incumbent, it’s all about that person’s record and whether they manage expectations,” he said. “I don’t blame [Republicans] for bringing up the issue at all. I just don’t see how it overrides all other voter considerations.”

Still, Mr. Barry is incensed over the GOP’s campaign and Mr. Hugo’s proposal.

“Whether I’m elected or not, the taxpayers are not out one penny,” he said.

In talking with people in the county, Sheriff Barry said, the most common reaction thus far has been confusion.

“I certainly hope that at some point, someone will call Cooper out on these laws,” he said. “I am not stealing county money. I have not found a loophole in the retirement system. It’s very frustrating for them to get away with things that are completely fabricated and repeated. Unfortunately, it has yet to happen, but hopefully, it will.”

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