The following is a republished press release from the Tompkins County Legislature and NOT written by the Ithaca Voice … click here to submit community announcements directly to The Voice, or contact me at msmith@ithacavoice.com.

ITHACA, NY — The special committee of the Tompkins County Legislature in its final stages of its once-a-decade review of the County Charter today discussed the future of the position of Tompkins County Sheriff—whether the position should remain an elected position, or whether, as part of the charter review, it should be recommended to change to an appointed position, similar to a Police Chief or other top-level County department heads.

Any change from an elected to appointed position would have to be approved by the voters by referendum.  At today’s meeting, Legislature Chair Michael Lane noted that the issue has been discussed since the 1990S, which committee chair Dooley Kiefer said included the last charter review a decade ago.

Sheriff Ken Lansing and Undersheriff Brian Robison were invited to today’s session.  Sheriff Lansing, who would not be affected by any change since he is not seeking reelection and served for decades as a municipal police chief prior to his election as Sheriff, said he’s worked in both capacities, and that there are benefits and drawbacks to both.

He noted that the position of Sheriff carries more responsibility than that of police chief—such as operation of the jail and mandated civil functions—and that nearly all of the Sheriff’s positions throughout the country are elected.  Within New York State, only New York City and Westchester and Nassau Counties have appointed Sheriffs.

Any appointed leadership position would likely report to the County Legislature, instead of being a separate elected authority.  Legislator Peter Stein maintained that the position of Sheriff is a job, not a policy-making authority, with the risk of an elected position being “the possibility of getting somebody without the qualifications to do the job well.”

Mr. Lane said an appointed position would serve at the discretion of the appointing agency, under Civil Service procedures, so that there could be a change in the event of a problem, with the Governor being the only person who can remove an elected official.

Undersheriff Brian Robison noted that, while he is generally an advocate of county policing, the position of Sheriff is different from other leadership positions in law enforcement—a position that has been around since before the Constitution, and the one person within county government that the people can say “that’s ours.”

He suggested that it may be premature right now to consider any potential change—that it might be more appropriate to consider it after results are in from the current law enforcement consolidation study.

Committee Chair Dooley Kiefer said that she believes the two issues, in fact, not related, and that she thinks the study interferes with the position discussion related to the Charter.  No recommendations were made today, and discussion of the issue is expected to continue.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.