All three candidates for sheriff agreed Monday evening to address the internal divisions in the Erie County Sheriff's Department if elected.
But only two of them were allowed to take part in the candidates forum sponsored by Teamsters Local 264, the union representing most sheriff's deputies.
Barred at the door, Charles Burkhardt, a road patrol deputy running on the Right to Life Party line, said later that the divisiveness within the department must be addressed by the next sheriff.
More than 100 people, mostly Sheriff's Department employees, attended the forum in Hearthstone Manor, Depew.
Thomas Dziedzic, secretary-treasurer of the union, said Burkhardt wasn't allowed inside because he wasn't invited. Taking part were Rocco J. Diina, the Democratic, Conservative and Independent candidate, and Patrick Gallivan, running on the Republican, Freedom and Liberal lines.
Among questions posed by the Teamsters was: "Will you pledge to issue one ID and badge to all sworn personnel?"
One badge is worn by about 350 employees who work in the Holding Center and on court security and are represented by the Teamsters. Wearing another badge are about 150 road patrol, or criminal, deputies, who recently broke off from the Teamsters to join the Police Benevolent Association.
Burkhardt is a member of the PBA, which has
endorsed Diina for sheriff.
"It has to become a one-badge department," Gallivan said. "The department must be united, working together as a community."
"The ID should be the same," agreed Diina.
"I think they're both lying," said Burkhardt, outside the meeting room. "It's not going to happen. The split took place because the criminal deputies have different professional needs than the others."
Burkhardt added that the two-badge issue is not the cause of dissension within the department and blamed the leadership. He pledged a more inclusive administration if he is elected sheriff. So did Diina and Gallivan.
Diina said some of the dissension in the Sheriff's Department has been caused by the assignment of road deputies to the Holding Center and court duty.
"This dissension has caused pain to the Sheriff's Department and to the people of Erie County," he added.
Both Diina and Gallivan spoke against assigning workers outside their specialties.
Gallivan said he would form a labor-management team after the election and immediately work to "create an atmosphere in which we are all on the same team."
Diina said he would form a "selection-transition team" that would receive input from road deputies and inside workers on how to fill the positions of undersheriff, chiefs and superintendents.
Both he and Gallivan said they preferred to promote from within but wouldn't hesitate to look outside the department to build their new leadership cadre.
Burkhardt, however, said he would promote the best captains to superintendents to enhance the possibilities of career progression in the Sheriff's Department.
The forum was polite, with no direct mention of Diina's ownership of RJD Security. However, Diina repeatedly alluded to the skills he learned as a businessman.
And Gallivan managed to say in his closing remarks: "I have absolutely no conflicts of interests, no outside interests."