Two Democrats vie for county sheriff
At the primary election this Thursday, two Democrats are facing off to be the new sheriff in Franklin County, armed with fresh ideas for the jail, hopes of improving relationships with the county board and years of either corrections or administrative experience between them.
The winner will face incumbent Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill, a Republican, in the Nov. 6 general election. Mulverhill has been the sheriff of Franklin County’s 46,540 residents since 2011.
After 27 years of working in nearly every position in the sheriff’s department, Bruce Barney said he knows what needs to improve and how to improve it. He is now a booking officer but he said he has done everything from transportation to work at the Federal Correctional Institute at Ray Brook.
Barney said that though he can retire whenever he wants, he wants to hold the sheriff’s seat and bring as much positive change to the jail as he can before he hangs up his hat.
Barney said the people he works with have been his support since he started his campaign in February.
“They’re the ones that wanted me to run,” Barney said.
Though Harrietstown town Councilwoman Jordanna Mallach does not have experience in the jails or police, she was a major in the Army National Guard who was deployed in Afghanistan in 2010, a member of numerous community and government groups, and grant writer for nonprofit organizations. Mallach said she sees the sheriff position not as a law enforcement position, rather an administrative position.
“The people that need to have the law enforcement knowledge are the people that work there: the corrections officers, the undersheriffs. They are the subject matter experts, and I would rely on their expertise,” Mallach said. “I think in the role of the sheriff, it’s my job to advocate for them, it’s my job to give them the resources they need and the support they need to do the best possible job that they can.”
The two candidates said they want similar things for the department: a good work environment and mutual respect between the sheriff, officers, inmates and county legislators.
Barney said currently, many officers do not enjoy coming to work, which leads to an excess of overtime, high turnover and more sick time.
“If you look at the budget, you see how much money is allocated and then how much is actually being spent, and it’s not matching up,” Mallach said, “specifically in the area of personnel.”
Mallach said this excess in overtime causes county legislators to pull money from elsewhere in the budget to cover the extra expenses.
Both believe the way to solve this is to create a less stressful work environment from the top down.
“We say in the military, ‘Leadership sets the tone,'” Mallach said.
Barney said setting the tone in a jail as a sheriff means mutual respect with both inmates and officers. He said though inmates present a challenging relationship, he has good rapport with them because he chooses to treat them the same as any other citizen, and helps them with requests, like finding paperwork in law library.
“I’m not the judge or jury, so I give them the same respect as anybody,” Barney said.
Barney wants to fit unprotected corrections officers with ballistic vests for when they transport inmates. He said seven deputies in the department have vests, but the 40 corrections officers, who do most of the transports to and from correctional facilities, do not.
He said officers on transportation jobs are in danger because they are driving to prisons all over the state, sometimes in places where gun violence, especially toward law enforcement, is common.
“Police officers have been shot pumping gas in their cars.” Barney said. “People see the uniform, and they think you’re a cop. They don’t know if you’re a correction officer.”
He said he would want ballistic vests for all officers who do transports. The custom-fitted vests cost around $100 to $200 each, and Barney said there grants out there that no one has looked into.
Barney has an idea for saving state and county taxpayers money by reducing the number of alleged parole violators housed in the county jail and replacing them with federal inmates, paid for by the federal government. Opening five cells for federal inmates would earn the jails around $100 per day for housing them.
“We could probably make a million, a couple million a year,” Barney said.
Clinton, St. Lawrence and Essex counties have federal inmates, but Barney said Franklin has not for the past decade as there are too many state parolees taking up cell space.
Several years ago, New York State took away state funding to house alleged parole violators, meaning the county jails have to pick up the bill. Barney noted that the state has closed several prisons in the region recently and suggested it could have kept one open for parolees only.
Housing federal inmates would also stop state overspending on overtime. Officers would still be able to collect overtime by transporting federal inmates to Albany on days off, with the U.S. Marshals paying for their overtime.
Barney also wants a program by which people going on vacations could request that the sheriff’s department checks in on their home, and even secure any weapons they own at the jail until they return. As far as he knows, this would be the first program of its kind.
He also wants to have deputies who are already driving around the county check on elderly residents.
From senior citizens to children, Barney wants every resident of Franklin County to be protected by the sheriff’s department. Barney, who started a child ID program which the state has now implemented as Operation SAFE CHILD, said he would like to bring the Children Have An Identity sticker programs from other states to New York. The stickers are filled out with information and placed on a child’s car seat so in the case of an accident, if the parents are unconscious, the emergency personnel can know what to do, who to call and what the child’s needs are.
This idea came from a visitor to his campaign Facebook page.
Barney said this close relationship with jail employees and his deep knowledge of law and processes in the department makes him more qualified for the sheriff position than Mallach, who he pointed out has not visited the jail.
She has visited other county jails in the past, but not in Franklin County’s.
Mallach and money
Mallach said her decision to run for sheriff began when she was running for the Harrietstown board. She started looking at the town and county budgets and noticed that $7 million of Franklin County’s $99 million budget goes to sheriff’s department.
“That’s a big chunk. So that kind of started my inquiry into finding out more,” Mallach said. “When I started asking the legislators, I started to hear about some of the problems they’ve been having with the sheriff.”
Mallach enjoys budgets and said, “I feel a really big obligation to be a good custodian of taxpayer dollars.”
Throughout her campaign Mallach said she has spent her evenings researching questions voters ask her, calling county officials to see if her ideas are feasible and talking with former, current and disgruntled employees to hear their concerns and ideas.
Mallach said she would like to solve the issues between the sheriff’s department and the county with mutual respect, because she believes when government doesn’t work well together, the taxpayers lose.
“It would be one of mutual respect with the understanding that they have their job and I have my job,” Mallach said. “The sheriff needs to be comfortable asking for exactly what they need with an explanation of why … and the legislators need to feel comfortable with the explanations.”
Mallach said she already has working relationship with the legislators and is an experienced grant writer.
Mallach said the sheriff is in a unique position to bring groups and people together to work on solving the opioid drug epidemic. As the special programs coordinator for the state Division of Veterans Affairs, Mallach has talked about opioids from a veteran’s perspective all over New York, in front of law enforcement, substance abuse nonprofit groups and chambers of commerce.
“I sort of had this moment where I realized that all of these organizations are doing this stuff but they’re doing it in a silo,” Mallach said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s anybody bringing everyone to the table, together.”
She believes that she would be effective at bringing these people together because she knows how to speak the “languages” of government, nonprofits, business and law enforcement.
The Barney campaign wants voters to be aware of a lawsuit Mallach is currently bringing against the village of Saranac Lake. In 2016 a village dump truck hit Mallach’s car, exacerbating a pre-existing injury and causing bruises, contusions and lacerations on Mallach’s head, neck and back, according to a lawsuit she filed in the Franklin County court.
Michael Lamitie, Barney’s communications director, said he did not think it was right for a public official to sue a municipality, as the cost of the settlement would be paid by the taxpayers. Mallach said any payment she receives from the suit will be paid by the village’s insurance company and that she just wants her medical bills from the accident paid.
Lamitie said since the taxpayers pay for the insurance company, they are still paying for it.
A press release from the campaign also points out than in portions of Mallach’s deposition she states that she has reoccurring headaches and “increased irritability” related to the headaches resulting from the accident.
The press release states that the sheriff position “requires that the person who holds that office have sound judgment, great patience and wisdom.”
Mallach said though she still suffers from headaches, she has them managed through several health options, which she pointed out doesn’t include pain medication.
“The military has made a determination that I’m still fit for duty, and I feel like if the military is OK with my serving and my doctor is OK with my serving, then I’m confident in my ability to do the job,” Mallach said.