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County government’s dysfunction spirals out of control

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We have for the last two weeks sat back and watched the spectacle unfolding between St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain and County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire that has grown to include department heads, Treasurer Kevin M. Felt, County Attorney Michael C. Crowe, County Judge Jerome J. Richards, and county officials who have retired over the last decade.

It started with allegations by Ms. Rain that Ms. St. Hilaire may have deliberately prevented the Probation Department from applying for a $500,000 grant to fund victims services positions in the DA’s office, that funding seized in drug-related arrests in which federal, state and local police cooperate had been misused, and that some department heads’ actions may not have been above board.

Ms. Rain is convening a grand jury to get to the bottom of whether Ms. St. Hilaire acted against her office’s interests in the county’s failure to apply for the grant and whether the drug forfeiture money was misused in funding two sound systems for the county legislative chambers. She has subpoenaed a laundry list of county officials and 10 years worth of records.

The situation escalated Wednesday when Ms. St. Hilaire filed formal complaints against Ms. Rain with the state attorney general and a state professional standards committee. She has requested a special prosecutor to take Ms. Rain’s place in the investigations she launched.

We are not sure where everything is going to land, but the spat has thrown the work of county government into disarray.

If these investigations are to move ahead, an outside party must be brought in to ensure fairness. A grand jury report cannot be written by the district attorney who leveled the accusations in the first place. Ms. Rain is a witness in these matters; the only proper thing to do is to bring in a special prosecutor to oversee grand jury deliberations.

Ms. Rain said Wednesday that she does not have a conflict of interest and it would be improper for county officials to request another prosecutor. She is dead wrong. She clearly has a conflict that will cloud her ability to act impartially once a grand jury comes to conclusions in these matters.

The decision on whether to appoint a special prosecutor rests with Judge Richards. We hope he does the right thing and brings in an attorney with no dog in the fight to handle the situation.

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