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Sat., Jul. 12
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Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Mad men

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Yet another case has surfaced to augment the litany of mismanagement at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.

Janice M. O’Dell of Ellisburg has filed a federal lawsuit alleging a pattern of job discrimination against female employees of the department. A taxpayer check for $9 million would make this case go away.

The suit also names Sheriff John P. Burns; Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau; retired Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff; Lt. Kristopher M. Spencer, jail administrator of the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building; Robert J. Newtown, a sergeant at the PSB; Francis Seymour, a corrections officer at the PSB; and Michael S. Peterson, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant.

Ms. O’Dell has been suspended for more than a year while drawing her full salary as the sheriff and county attempt to make a case stick that accuses her of having “relationships” with inmates both inside and outside the jail, promoting prison contraband and official misconduct.

The problem with these grand jurycharges is that the county court dismissed the two first-degree contraband counts, and the balance of the charges were adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. In other words, the sheriff’s case was inadequate, unsupportable and wrong.

Ms. O’Dell alleges that beginning in 2010, her supervisor and another corrections officer asked her to “send them pictures of herself.” She refused and promptly received a photograph of a penis.

Shortly after that her supervisor, Sgt.Newton, warned her that he might reprimand her. To Ms. O’Dell, the implication was clear — forget about the unwanted photo just sent you.

Ms. O’Dell also cites in her $9 million suit that a member of the Sheriff’s Department observed her at a restaurant with an “old college acquaintance,” who happened to be black. Mr. Seymour is alleged to have investigated Ms. O’Dell for meeting with a black male. It was shortly thereafter that Ms. O’Dell was given an ultimatum to resign — an action she refused to take.

Then began the county’s effort to indict her and discipline her, all actions that have failed to date. Ms. O’Dell was suspended and since then she has been earning her salary while the county and the Sheriff’s Department continue their desultory discipline regimen.

This most recent allegation is added to the list of issues at the department:

nA sheriff’s deputy is found passed out in his car with an open bottle of liquor in the seat next to him;

nFormer Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff used his cellphone to send indecent photos to a convicted felon;

nAccusations that a female deputy was coerced into posing for sexually provocative photographs. Her claim for damages was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, but an allegation of breach of contract between the deputy and the department remains outstanding;

nA jailhouse nurse who illegally accessed noninmate medical records.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has imploded. It is mismanaged by the sheriff and his appointed officers. The department displaysincredible hubris—ignoring the law, discriminating against women and showing signs of discrimination against racial minorities.

While the county should intervene now, it appears the Legislature is allowing the department to dangle while awaiting the 2014 election of a new sheriff.That is wrong.The longer this debacle continues without action from the Legislature, the more difficult and expensive it will become to re-establish a professional Sheriff’s Department for the county.

Dealing with lawsuits that expose taxpayers to financial penalties because of mismanagement is not in the county’s long-term best interest. Legislators can act now by requiring the county’s professional management to control the expenditure of every dollar appropriated by the county in support of the sheriff and establish control over his personnel. This crisis requires bold and immediate action.

Sheriff Burns has been known to collect relics from bygone eras. But while possessing memorabilia from the past is fine, allowing his department to wallow in it is not. This is the second decade of the 21st century, and those he manages must conform their behavior to these modern times.

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