Commentary: Sheriff Should Stop Attacking Putnam County Legislature

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By Neal L. Sullivan and Ginny Nacerino
Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino

Last fall, the Putnam County Legislature and County Executive MaryEllen Odell went through the county’s spending plan with a fine-tooth comb, funded the services that our residents rely upon and cut redundancies.

To look out for our taxpayers, we make hard decisions like this every year at budget time.

Ultimately the budget, which included changes to the Sheriff’s Department Marine Unit, was supported by the legislature in an overwhelming 8-1 vote. This was an extremely challenging budget due to the economic uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic and unknowns about future state and federal funding.

Why, you might ask, are we talking about this now, when the 2021 budget was adopted way back in November?

It’s because Sheriff Robert L. Langley Jr. has chosen this time, while he is running for re-election, to flog an issue that he ignored during budget season, when he could have spoken up. In promoting his own interests, he has recently attacked the legislature – in writing, in interviews, on his Facebook page – and we want to set the record straight.

When Sheriff Langley was elected, he met with a couple of legislators and spoke about making substantial changes in the Sheriff’s Department to reduce overtime and improve overall efficiency in order to keep taxes low for our residents. To date, he has not instituted one of those changes but instead, increased overall costs to the taxpayer.

The 2021 budget reduced funding for the Sheriff’s Department Marine Unit by removing weekend-only patrols in places where the state police, the Coast Guard, local police and many other fire, rescue and EMS agencies already serve and patrol – the Hudson River and Lake Mahopac, which is a state-owned lake. The Marine Unit continues to patrol Lake Oscawana, which has no other coverage.

We have always supported the men and women of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. This was a simple matter of eliminating a duplication of services. Indeed, when a swimmer in distress was reported on June 29, 19 different agencies and units responded to the scene, Bureau of Emergency Services Commissioner Kenneth W. Clair Jr. reported.

Nonetheless, Sheriff Langley chose to use a hot-button political slogan, claiming that we defunded the police. Don’t fall for it, we would never do that. We have been working, as per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive, to make the department more efficient and responsive to the public. In fact, the 2021 adopted police budget was almost $800,000 more than the 2020 budget.

Here is the real story:

County Executive Odell presents a proposed budget in October every year. For the next month, the legislature considers the requests of each department before adopting the budget in November. That would have been the appropriate time for Sheriff Langley to discuss his funding needs for rescue and recovery. Though he was welcome to meet with the legislature, Sheriff Langley couldn’t be bothered.

Indeed, when we ask the sheriff to come talk to the legislature’s committees, he just sends an underling to do his bidding. That is not only counterproductive, but disrespectful. When people with opposing views meet to discuss issues, compromise can sometimes be found. But Sheriff Langley chooses to duck the meetings and instead hide behind political slogans intended to inflame the public rather than inform.

The legislature doesn’t play that game. We don’t make important budgetary decisions based on political whims. We make our decisions based on facts with the interests of our taxpayers in mind. Sheriff Langley turns to Facebook and social media to stoke an argument.

Sheriff Langley’s use of social media to promote his false claims about the legislature shows how his real goal is just to stir up a crowd. Of course, his Facebook page violates the Putnam County social media guidelines and the Sheriff Department’s own Code of Conduct in so many ways it’s hard to keep count.

But even if you ignore the fact that it’s a private Facebook page that’s made to look like an official Sheriff’s Department page, it’s hard to miss that it contains untruthful, malicious posts that are knowingly false and calculated to harm the reputation of Putnam County legislators – a clear violation.

We could list all the official “standards of conduct” Langley is violating on his Facebook page, but quoting regulation 320.5.9 (f) of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Policy Manual sums it up. It prohibits “Discourteous, disrespectful or discriminatory treatment of any member of the public or any member of this office or the County.”

The attacks on the legislature that are posted on Langley’s social media pages are unbecoming of the sheriff, make our county look bad and can only have a negative effect on the morale of his department.

Sheriff Langley should stop his public attacks on the legislature and instead start thinking about actually participating in constructive discussions with us. The next budget season will be here soon enough and we would all benefit from some cooperation.

Legislator Neal L. Sullivan is deputy chair of the Putnam County Legislature and Legislator Ginny Nacerino is chair of the Protective Services Committee.

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