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Action Delayed on Proposed Hearing on Sheriff’s Position

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Action Delayed on Proposed Hearing on Sheriff’s Position

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Legislature tabled a proposal to schedule a public hearing to take comment on a proposed Charter change and Local Law that, if approved by the voters, would change the position of Tompkins County Sheriff from an elected to an appointed position. Because of time requirements related to the General Election ballet, the action means that any consideration of the issue will not be put before the voters this year.

Government Operations Committee Chair Dan Klein, as well as several other Legislators, stressed that the issue was whether to schedule the hearing to permit the residents of Tompkins County to vote on whether the position of Sheriff should be appointed or elected, not that there was any foregone conclusion to make such a change. A September 6th hearing, with legislative action the same night, would have been the last opportunity to act to put the matter to referendum on the November ballot. Nine people addressed the Legislature at the beginning of the meeting—all but one voicing support for keeping the position elected.

While a number of legislators again expressed the view that serious consideration of the form of the Sheriff’s position is worthwhile, many indicated that more time is needed to solicit and receive public input, to consider views expressed by the public, and as the complex aspects of the position, including to whom any appointed official should report—the Legislature or the County Administrator.

Public Safety Committee chair Peter Stein remarked that, while he would support an appointed sheriff, more discussion is needed before moving forward. Legislator Rich John also said more time is needed, especially as could be related to the pending law enforcement shared services study. Legislator Jim Dennis observed that “the time has not yet quite come, even though the county has been talking about this for many, many years.” While scheduling a public hearing would have set things in motion, Legislator Martha Robertson said this is the wrong time to do that, and advanced the motion to table, which was approved by a 9-5 vote, Legislators Dooley Kiefer, Anna Kelles, Will Burbank, Government Operations chair Klein, and Legislature Chair Mike Lane voting no. Mr. Lane said, “Change never happens unless there is a mechanism to make change happen…I think what we have been talking about since 1996 is a better way of doing this…I think that the public ought to have a chance to weigh in on this.”