Update On The Steuben Co Indemnification Situation
At this morning's Steuben County Legislative meeting, Sheriff Jim Allard handed out and read a statement, about possibly losing indemnification.
Because of our public safety functions, Sheriff’s operations face some of the most lawsuits—including many of the most frivolous—of any government entity in the County. The County Legislature is considering rescinding a law that it passed itself six years ago, protecting the office of the Sheriff from these lawsuits by indemnifying the Sheriff, as it does so many other public officers. No one has offered an explanation for why the Legislature is considering reversing itself just six years later, but a recent statement from the Chair of the Legislature suggested that my office has not been complying with the County in the matter of investigating allegations of harassment and discrimination against County employees.
If that’s the reason the County is considering rescinding this law, it’s wrong and untrue. I want to talk for a moment about these investigations and why this resolution is really about an attempt—by a few County officials—to politically coerce my office into handing over some of its authority and responsibilities.
The Chair’s statement refers to the County’s 850 employees as its most important asset and says they deserve an environment that is safe and free of harassment and hostility. I couldn’t agree more, and furthermore, approximately 160 of those employees are my own, which means I take very personally the commitment to ensuring that they are not exposed to harassment, discrimination, or other unlawful treatment in the course of their work. To help make that happen, and to carry out other responsibilities of my office—like ensuring good order in my officers’ ranks, disciplining members who commit inappropriate or unlawful acts, and protecting employees who are victims of misconduct, my office has a series of internal policies that are specific to our membership. Some of those lay out the ways my office investigates complaints of discrimination and harassment, something we have always done, historically, hand-in-hand with the County’s civilian personnel.
In fact, my office has not only regularly shared the outcome of investigations with County officials and legal representatives, but has consistently sought consensus and opinion from members of the County administration and their legal representatives in these matters. This office has frequently been praised by these same entities for its ability to conduct timely, unbiased investigations, and for its decisive and reasonable responses relative to disciplinary matters. This has made the recent turn of events even more frustrating.
Now, suddenly, some officials in the County’s management are upset that this office has policies and rules that are specific to its members. They seem to believe that those policies somehow prevent the County from carrying out its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment responsibilities. In recent months there has been ongoing pressure from certain officials for this office to change its policies and give up the ability to investigate complaints from and about its own members.
But these officials haven’t given any actual examples of this office failing to work with the County or comply with its policies, because they can’t. This office has repeatedly reassured the County and its Legislators that it recognizes the County’s policies; it recognizes the County’s authority to conduct investigations; and it is not looking to undermine or interfere with either of those things. All this office has sought to do is to continue to apply our own internal requirements in addition to the County’s, and to continue to participate in investigations so that we can carry out our own unique responsibilities, like administering discipline and preserving the promises made to our members in collective bargaining agreements. We’ve repeatedly asked County officials to explain why that should be a concern to them, and we’ve gotten no explanation. We trust that the Legislature will understand that the position we’ve taken is a reasonable one, and that the resolution before it to rescind the Sheriff’s indemnification is nothing more than political punishment.
Wvin News has reached out to Steuben County Legislative Chairman Scott VanEtten, and as soon as he responds, we will post that on this website.
Upcoming Veterans Dinner, This Wednesday In Bath
The Steuben County Veterans One Stop Center is having a veterans dinner in Bath this Wednesday at 6pm at the Chat A Whyle, 28 Liberty Street in Bath. To reserve a seat, call 716 313 2934.
Rep Nick Langworthy Stops By Elmira For Chamber Lunch
Republican Congressman Nick Langworthy was in Elmira today at a Chamber of Commerce Business get together. The congressman met with chamber of commerce officials from Steuben, Chemung and Schuyler Counties.
Construction Reminder For Urbana And Campbell
The Wood Road Bridge in the Town of Campbell is closed for construction and that’s for six weeks. Also, County Route 87 in Urbana is closed from 7:30 am to 4 pm today and tomorrow and there won’t be an onsite detour.