Franklin County legislators challenge sheriff

MALONE – Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill took fire from some Franklin County legislators last week after a deputy charged a legislator with driving with ability impaired by alcohol.

What began as a discussion about the sheriff’s budget quickly got derailed shortly after Legislator Gordon Crossman, D-Malone, questioned Mulverhill on the function of sheriff’s deputies.

Mulverhill, a Republican and former state trooper, explained that the eight deputies serve several functions outside of the jail, including issuing subpoenas, transporting prisoners and checking up on sex offenders.

Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, pressed the question.

“An arrest was made last month that made front-page news,” Maroun said. “I want to know what that deputy was doing out there.”

Maroun was referring to the Aug. 15 arrest of Legislator Guy “Tim” Smith, D-Fort Covington. Smith, who walked into the meeting minutes after Mulverhill left, was stopped on the road by Deputy Luke Cromp and charged with DWAI.

Cromp reported that he had observed Smith driving erratically on Route 37 in the town of Malone and pulled him over at about 6 p.m. Smith’s blood-alcohol content was recorded at 0.055 percent, according to the Press-Republican newspaper.

According to New York state law, someone can be charged with driving while ability impaired if their blood alcohol content is between 0.05 and 0.07 percent. A BAC of 0.08 or higher bumps the charge up to driving while intoxicated.

Smith pleaded not guilty to the charge and is scheduled to appear in Malone town court Oct. 1.

Mulverhill said Cromp was checking up on sex offenders the night of Smith’s arrest and explained that, in the last two weeks, deputies have knocked on the door of every sex offender in the county. Maroun asked if that was the sheriff’s obligation under state law. Mulverhill said it is, and that a corrections officer only has peace officer status and therefore isn’t qualified to do that.

“I want to see that in writing, sheriff,” Maroun said. “I think we deserve better answers than that.”

Maroun then accused Mulverhill of running amok with regard to the Legislature.

“You don’t communicate with us on a regular basis; you go above and beyond what you should be doing,” Maroun shouted. “At budget time, we control the process.”

After the meeting, Maroun said his main issue had nothing to do with Smith’s arrest, but he added that his constituents have questioned him about it.

“There was an arrest made; that’s fine,” Maroun said. “I understand criminal law, but if that car wasn’t out there for a specific purpose, and you have a road patrol out there, then my people deserve it as much as the people in Malone. If we had a road patrol in Tupper Lake, I could probably take two officers off the payroll.”

Maroun is also the mayor of the village of Tupper Lake, which has a police department.

Maroun then referred to Mulverhill calling in the dtate Commission of Corrections at the beginning of his term in 2011, which forced the county to hire more correction officers at the jail to comply with mandated staffing numbers.

“Normally, we don’t initiate calls to the Commission on Corrections,” Maroun said. “This sheriff talks to them all the time, and it results in costing the taxpayers a lot of money because we have to put more people on.

“When it comes to budget time, we can cut the budget, and that’s what he’ll have to work with.”

Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Sarnanac Lake, said the board is looking at various options for saving money, including replacing deputy positions with correction officer positions.

Mulverhill cited Section 652 of the state’s County Law, which states that as long as he stays within budget, “the sheriff may appoint as many regular deputy sheriffs as he may deem proper, but not exceeding one for every 3,000 inhabitants of the county.

“The board of supervisors may, however, authorize appointment of such additional regular sheriffs as it may determine.”

Burpoe then asked if any of the sheriff’s staff had ever disrespected Franklin County legislators during daily roll call at the jail,. Mulverhill said that hasn’t happened to his knowledge.

In a phone interview with the Enterprise Monday, Burpoe explained that the board cut a 3.5 percent pay increase for sheriff’s department union members in 2011, and he said several corrections officers have told him there is talk about the legislators being ignorant or stupid during roll call. Cutting the pay increase was written into the contract.

“A guy that’s the undersheriff is continually saying negative things about the guys that control their budget, which happens to be the county legislators,” Burpoe told the Enterprise.

Burpoe said overtime at the jail is sky-high and that the sheriff has been lax in controlling it.

“We might need to look at redefining the mission of that department and concentrate on what they’re supposed to be doing, which is running a jail instead of having a deputy sheriff go out and do other things,” Burpoe said.

He said another solution to the overtime problem is to make better use of per-diem employees.

“He’s already blown through his overtime budget, and we’re only three-quarters through the year,” Burpoe said.

Undersheriff Patrick White took issue with some of Burpoe and Maroun’s statements in a phone interview with the Enterprise Wednesday. He admitted he has heard officers bash the legislators and said he understood why.

“The employees all thought they were getting that raise, and to the best of my knowledge, that raise was appropriated in the budget,” White said. “But they (county legislators) waited until the raise was to go into effect to let these people know that it was not going to come. I would be very upset about that.”

White said a new union contract is still in the works after two years. He added that the deputies are already spread so thin that cutting the budget is not a viable option.

“There’s a lot of issues dealing with the lack of knowledge of the operation of the sheriff’s department concerning the county legislators,” White said. “Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake are two police departments that make arrests in our area, and we transport every arrest they make. We go from here to there, pick them up and bring them back. They are the only two agencies we do that for. I’m pretty sure that if Maroun knew that, he wouldn’t be looking for more services from the sheriff’s department.”

White also contended Burpoe’s assertion that more per-diem employees should be brought onto the force, saying training them would be costly.

“Our deputies go through a 24-week academy,” White said. “At the end of that 24-week academy, they have to go for another four weeks of field training with a certified police agency before they can actually assume their duties. Each one of these academies is $15,000-plus per person, so I’m pretty sure if you tell Burpoe that’s the cost, he’s not going to be ready to do that.”

The real problem was Smith’s arrest, not the budget, White said.

“This whole thing is dredged up because one of their own is breaking the law, and he got caught, so now they want to attack us because we have a deputy out there doing his job,” White said. “We technically don’t do patrols anywhere. We do not have the police equipment in any one of our cruisers to actually go out there and do patrol, but if they see a violation of the law committed in front of them, they are obligated by law to take action, and they do that.”