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On more than one occasion during the past few weeks, people have asked the question: Where is Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns?

His absence at two significant events recently has been noted, but answers haven’t been forthcoming. He has left others to tend to the important responsibilities that are his to carry out.

The first incident occurred July 16 when Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau appeared before Jefferson County officials. He told the Board of Legislators General Services Committee that the Sheriff’s Department could no longer ensure that a deputy sheriff would be present at Watertown International Airport for the afternoon flight to Chicago.

Mr. Trudeau said personnel shortages in the department won’t be resolved until two positions are filled.

This is a major piece of news that one would think the head of the Sheriff’s Department should deliver personally. But Mr. Burns was “not available” that evening as he was attending the New York State Sheriffs Association annual summer training conference in Alexandria Bay.

The sheriff’s whereabouts were also unknown last week as the department began its investigation into the stabbing death of 33-year-old Philip R. Pickett on Swan Road in the town of Watertown. If the Sheriff’s Department is determined to take on this case, the individual in charge should look like he’s in charge. Residents of this area were concerned about what had happened, and Mr. Burns’s presence at the scene of such a tragic event would have appropriate.

Reporters for the Watertown Daily Times have been unable to get in touch with Mr. Burns. Repeated phone calls to the Sheriff’s Department have gone unreturned.

This is the epitome of unprofessionalism on the part of Mr. Burns and his staff. If the sheriff is on vacation of out of town on other business, let us know.

But to simply not return phone calls betrays an appalling lack of leadership, and we’re beginning to understand why. This leadership must come from the top, but Mr. Burns appears to be too busy with who knows what to provide it.

Mr. Burns has indicated he will not seek re-election, and that’s fine. But if he’s lost all interest in doing his job, then he should quit immediately.

His only action shouldn’t be to merely collect paychecks. Mr. Burns needs to make his presence known, carry out his duties. Otherwise, he should resign and hand the job over to someone who actually wants to work for a living.

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