Editor’s Note: The following letter was submitted by Peter Walker, President of the Tompkin’s County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. The letter was composed by and democratically voted on by the member of the union body comprised of all the deputies who serve the residents of Tompkins County. Subtitles added for readability.

This letter is written on behalf of the men and women of The Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. This letter is written both as union members and as concerned citizens of this country and residents of Tompkins County.

I think it is important to understand that our union membership in The Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff’s Association is both politically and demographically diverse. The men and women who make up the membership are Democrat, Republican and even Independent. More importantly, we are human beings and citizens of The United States of America and primarily residents of Tompkins County.

We unanimously oppose the recent discussion, direction and changes that the Tompkins County Legislators are trying to pass in effort to create an “Appointed Police Commissioner/Sheriff”. An appointment solely made by the county legislators and not by the residents of Tompkins County. We oppose this irrational and politically motivated decision as union members and more importantly, citizens.

No room for politics

We wholeheartedly acknowledge that there is no room for politics in law enforcement and we respect that The Lady of Justice on the New York State flag is blind folded, symbolizing that justice is blind.

In a recent meeting held by the Tompkins County Legislators, attendees were offered a document citing Article 31 “C-31.00 Department of Police; Commissioner of Police; appointment; term; powers and duties”. In this anticipated change; “The Department of Police Shall be headed by a Commissioner of Police who shall be appointed by, responsible to, and serve at the pleasure of the County Legislature. The Commissioner shall have training and professional experience in [government] law enforcement acceptable to the County Legislature.”

As primarily residents of this county, we refuse to concede to county legislators stealing the vote away from their own people they are supposed to represent. For the top law enforcement official in Tompkins County “serving at the pleasure of the County Legislature” is an unjustified insult to the people they represent.

That’s 14 Legislators, stealing the vote away from their over 100,000 residents on the decision of choosing the chief law enforcement official representing this county. These 14 Legislators making this immense decision would be the same Legislators who often run unopposed in their own elections. What makes them wiser, more knowledgeable and more competent than you and I?

As Peter Kehoe, a representative of the New York State Sheriff’s Association stated in a recent meeting discussing this topic; “The Sheriff is directly chosen by the people and more importantly, the sheriff is accountable directly to the people.” It is our strong opinion that we feel the same.

We feel that the residents of Tompkins County, the county most of us grew up in, should continue to hold the vote for Sheriff as it stands today.


Checks and balances

Several ideas have been created by the county legislators regarding the position of Sheriff. One idea was splitting the duties of the Sheriff’s Office itself. In this idea, the Sheriff would continue to be elected however only run the Jail Division and Civil Division.

A Commissioner of Police, whom would be appointed (chosen solely) by the county legislators would head the Law Enforcement Division. In this, funding such an operation would cost tax payers an astronomical amount of money. From uniform changes, sheriff vehicle lettering, to policy changes; where would it end?

These are the same legislators that claim poverty during contract negotiations for their own people for a union that has been in contract for 8 months out of the last 15 years. Their claims of a vast pool of available funding through grants will only go so far but wait… aren’t grants tax payer dollars anyways?

A second idea would be maintaining the current Sheriff’s Office as it stands today however institute the Sheriff’s position as an appointed position. An appointment solely made by the legislators.

As Dooley Kiefer (District 10 – Legislator and Chair of the Charter Review Committee) stated in a recent meeting regarding this exact scenario; “At the moment, an elected sheriff is a popularity contest”. Is that truly how Kiefer feels about the people she represents? Aren’t you an elected official also, where one would argue your position is also a “popularity contest”?

The residents of Tompkins County are more than capable of making the decision of who they want to lead their county as Sheriff and we take offense to such a comment as should all residents of Tompkins County.

If either of these scenarios play out or even something similar, where would the checks and balances be? Right now the “checks and balances” lie in the hands of the residents every four years in an election. If the sheriff is “appointed by, responsible to, and serve at the pleasure of the County Legislature”, how on earth would there be any “checks and balances”?

They would most certainly not be in the hands of the people as they are today. A representative democracy does not or will not ever work for this position. By allowing this to pass, we must understand that we are all giving up our rights as residents on choosing the top law enforcement official in Tompkins County, whether be a Sheriff or Police Commissioner. We need to stand up against this and should it go to vote, let’s unite and vote it down.

This letter is representing the men and women of The Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. This letter represents our opinions as both union members and more importantly our voices as citizens of this country and residents of Tompkins County.

We appreciate your attention in this matter.

Members of The Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff’s Association

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.