Sheriff’s second job shortchanges taxpayers - The Buffalo News

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Sheriff’s second job shortchanges taxpayers

Idon’t totally begrudge Tim Howard a second job. Maybe the poor guy needs the money. Or he has time on his hands.

I just wish he wouldn’t fill his financial needs or professional aspirations on our time.

And “our time,” when it comes to the county sheriff, is all of the time.

Either we need to downgrade the sheriff’s office to part-time work, or give Howard more to do. As reported today by my News colleague Matt Spina, the sheriff until recently had a side gig detecting money-laundering for M&T Bank. And he was doing it – if I’m reading the county charter correctly – on our time.

The charter states that an elected department head “shall devote his or her whole time to the duties of his or her office, and shall hold no other public office.”

Howard apparently concluded this meant he could take a private job, which causes me to question his reading comprehension skills, as well as his judgment. Either way, I don’t want my county sheriff collecting a second paycheck at our expense. If he wants a second job so badly, he should quit the first one.

I wish Howard had let us know during last fall’s campaign that he was so gung-ho about moonlighting. I don’t think it’s a coincidence he grabbed the M&T gig a couple of months after the votes were counted. Somehow, I couldn’t see the Republican running on the platform “Re-Elect Howard As Your Part-time Sheriff.”

“He’s shortchanging taxpayers and adding to the public’s endless cynicism about public servants,” said Susan Lerner, director of the good-government group Common Cause-NY. “Given the challenges of modern law enforcement, I think voters deserve a full-time sheriff. He’s not delivering honest service.”

Although Howard reportedly collected a juicy $50 per hour from M&T, I can’t see why he needed the money. In addition to pulling down $79,000 as sheriff, he has a $52,000 state police pension. Unless he lives a lot larger than he lets on, it should be enough to put a roof over his head and food on the table.

Howard told The News that he isn’t obligated to work as sheriff “every waking hour.” Although he put in M&T hours on some weekdays, he said most of the bank time was logged at night or on weekends and holidays – when criminals presumably have off. He drove to his private side job – in another sideswipe of the public trust – in his taxpayer-provided vehicle. He was cleared to leave for any police emergency.

I suppose we should feel good that Howard is back on the full-time public payroll, but somehow I can’t work up much enthusiasm. Anyone this clueless is a suspect commodity.

Howard was elected to head a department with a $118 million budget and 1,000 workers who run a jail and a prison and patrol county roads. Not considering it worthy of his full attention shows a disdain for taxpayers and an arrogance beyond any explanation. If this is the way Howard treats the flexibility of his position, I think it’s time he punched a clock. At least then we’d be assured he logs at least an eight-hour day.

If it was his first misjudgment, it’d be easier to swallow. But Howard’s nine-year tenure is pockmarked with questionable moves and debatable judgments.

Whether by a stroke of political genius or a lucky circumstance, he turned last November’s election into a referendum on the Andrew Cuomo-driven SAFE Act. Howard declared that he would not – in another sign of his loose grasp of professional responsibilities – enforce the controversial new firearms law. The move won him the affection of an energized voting bloc of gun-rights advocates, whose backing lifted him to an easy win against divided opposition.

The single-issue focus distracted voters from Howard’s checkered legacy. The Bucky Phillips fugitive fiasco – which led to the serious wounding of two state troopers and shooting death of another – happened on Howard’s watch. So did enough suicides, beatings and prisoner mistreatment at the downtown Holding Center and county jail in Alden to prompt a federal lawsuit. A compromise deal reached three years ago with the U.S. Justice Department led to more oversight at the county facilities, though problems remain.

Perhaps if Howard devoted his full energies to ongoing issues at the lockups, he wouldn’t have so much time on his hands.

Unfortunately, there isn’t another election for nearly four years. I only hope that voters have long memories. They will presumably be inclined to demote Howard from part-time sheriff to former sheriff.

Note: This article has been amended to reflect corrected information. The original article incorrectly stated that the sheriff at 64 could collect Social Security in addition to his $79,000 county salary.


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