July 07, 2001
County legislators are skeptical of sheriff's association's motives
LAW ENFORCEMENT: Statewide group looks to protect Bigger or at least his elected office.
By John-Henry Doucette and Timothy O'Connor
The Times Herald-Record
An Albany-based group that looks out for sheriffs is urging Orange County legislators not to rush to condemn Sheriff Frank Bigger or the elected office in which he now serves.
A letter from the New York State Sheriff's Association arrived in 21 legislators' mailboxes this week, a response to a report's recommendation that things are so bad under Bigger his office should be replaced.
Holland & Knight, a New York City law firm, was hired by the county for $150,000 at County Executive Joseph Rampe's behest. The firm's report recommends creating departments of public safety and corrections that answer to the county executive, not voters. Peter R. Kehoe, executive director of the association, wrote legislators that this tack would destroy a 300-year-old institution over "transient" problems.
He offered the services of his group in making Bigger a better sheriff. He also suggested that Rampe set the firm on Bigger knowing the results in advance.
"Certainly some of the allegations, if true, cause us concern," Kehoe wrote. "Even more troubling is the ... wholly unsupported conclusion that the way to fix any problems ... is to dismantle the (sheriff's) office."
Several legislators said they would consider what Kehoe had to say, but some doubted the importance of a state professional organization in determining legislative business.
"Reading between the lines, they are defending the sheriff," said Legislator Spencer McLaughlin, R-Monroe.
County Executive Joseph Rampe noted that the sheriff's association had opposed the idea of an evaluation.
Rampe said the sheriff's association is only protecting its members and that he was hardly surprised they would oppose the report's recommendation.
While Rampe said he welcomed any input on fixing the problems, he asked: "If they're so interested in helping, where have they been all along?"
Kehoe said he had consulted with Bigger since the report was commissioned last fall. He added that he would have more to say about Rampe's responsibilities in problems at the jail when he spoke with legislators.
"I would be willing to meet with this organization or any sheriffs' advocacy organizations to hear their perspective," said Legislator Jeffrey Berkman, D-Middletown.
However, Legislative Chairman Richard Hansen, R-Unionville, isn't so sure what good such a meeting would do.
"At this point, I don't see why we should talk to them," he said. "As far as I'm concerned it was a very thorough report... As a person, I like Frank Bigger, but the buck stops with him."
Anthony Valenti, the lead investigator on Holland & Knight's evaluation team, declined to comment on the letter. Members of the firm will speak to the county Legislature on July 17 at a meeting called by Hansen.
It is open to the public.
content © 2000-2002 Jeffrey Berkman
(except where indicated)
Orange County Legislature
PO Box 787
Middletown, New York 10940
fax: (845) 343-9158
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