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Road patrol at heart of sheriff-legislature feud

(Enterprise photos)

In a feud about staffing and road patrols, communication between Franklin County legislators and Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill has been poor, according to both parties.

Legislators accuse Mulverhill of running an unofficial road patrol, and he accuses the board of micromanaging his department through staffing cuts. Both sides are trying to figure out what the role of the sheriff’s department will be now that statewide bail reform, which took effect Jan. 1, is dramatically reducing the jail’s population.

While staffing is the central issue being talked about, legislators are focused on the use of sheriff’s deputies on limited road patrols, which they are unanimously opposed to.

“We will keep eliminating positions if we have to,” said Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake. Later he backtracked on the definiteness of that statement and simply said, “It’s possible.”

Chairman Donald Dabiew, D-Bombay, said he plans to eliminate two more deputies from the department through attrition because bail reform — which eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and class E felonies — has lowered jail populations.

Board members say the cuts are not personal attacks on Mulverhill, but he says it is a “tit-for-tat” retaliation for running the department how he feels fit.

The sheriff is an elected official, and the legislators have no say over his department, although they do have control over his budget.

Staff numbers

Dabiew said learning that the sheriff’s department was running what he called a “road patrol” is what tipped the board off that the department has “extra staff.”

The jail population has dropped from around 112 in 2014 to around 60 currently.

Legislator Lindy Ellis, D-Saranac Lake, said the population has reduced by 20% since 2011, with another 20% decrease predicted by the sheriff in 2020. She said deputies’ jail transport trips have dropped by 26% over the past five years and, based on the average number of transports per inmate, they are estimated to drop another 25% this year.

Is it a road patrol?

Mulverhill has wanted a sort of limited road patrol for years, but legislators have been very vocal that they do not want a countywide road patrol on top of state and village police, estimating that would cost around $6 million a year.

“He wants (a road patrol),” Maroun said. “We’re not giving him the money for it … until the sheriff understands that there’s going to be a discrepancy between his policies and what we fund.”

Asked why he thinks Mulverhill wants a road patrol, Maroun said, “It’s called power.”

Mulverhill said the board and himself are co-employers of the sheriff’s department staff and that with opioid drugs, texting while driving and short-staffed police departments, “If I want a deputy to work out on the road for a little while, then that’s my prerogative.”

He said he sends deputies who are not busy at the jail to keep the roads safe for “an hour here, a couple hours there.” He said it is not a real road patrol. Legislators disagreed.

“We’ve been told that they’ve been parking in different areas of the county, pulling people over for parking violations, light violations, speeding tickets,” Maroun said. “That’s a road patrol.”

“The sheriff is denying that he is doing road patrols,” Ellis said. However, she said that from what she had heard, deputies are sent out on the road “often.”

Both said there are plenty of other law enforcement agencies patrolling Franklin County and that they think taxpayers do not need to pay for duplicate work. They said if the department has time for patrolling, that means it can eliminate more staff.

Mulverhill said he has a duty to patrol.

“If the board wants to micromanage the sheriff’s department, then they have to take the liability that goes with it,” Mulverhill said. “If they are going to keep cutting my staff … they introduced themselves to the liability that if something happens here — if an officer or an inmate gets injured here as the result of a lack of staff — then I think they bear the responsibility.”

Staff cuts

Dabiew said he may be looking for the state Department of Corrections to do a staffing evaluation of the jail again and possibly set the minimum number of needed employees lower.

“I don’t know how they couldn’t (lower it),” Dabiew said.

Mulverhill said he accepts that the board has control of his department’s finances and said he will continue running it with whatever staff he has.

“They control the purse strings. That’s fine,” Mulverhill said. “If that’s the route they want to take, I don’t really have much of an argument there other than, yes, they can keep eliminating staff.”

Currently the jail has either two or three corrections officers over the minimum of 50. Ellis and Undersheriff Terance White are hashing that number out now.

Communication issues

Mulverhill and the legislators openly acknowledge that they do not see eye-to-eye, but both accused the other of not communicating well.

“I would much rather be able to work with them,” Mulverhill said. “But when they make statements like Mr. Maroun made (about continuing to make cuts), they obviously don’t want to work with me and they don’t want to allow me to do my job. … I’m not a department head, and I think the bothers the board.”

Mulverhill said he felt “ambushed and blindsided” when he learned in a meeting that the two positions were cut.

Legislators were unhappy that Mulverhill was putting deputies out on the road, patrolling.

“This has nothing to do with, ‘Do we like the sheriff or not?'” Maroun said. “He doesn’t communicate well with the legislature.”

Ellis had a meeting with the sheriff on Thursday which she said was, “a beginning … a start to moving forward.”

Mulverhill and each legislator said they hope to have a better working relationship in the future; they are just not sure how to get there.

Maroun said he plans to give a speech on this topic at the legislature’s next meeting, on Thursday.

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