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A bit of turbulence


Just when the flights of unconventional behavior seemed to abate at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff John P. Burns’ handpicked undersheriff paid a surprise visit to the Legislature’s General Services Committee on Tuesday night to threaten the county by warning that the department would no longer guarantee assignment of the required law enforcement personnel to the Watertown International Airport.

Without a police officer at the airport during the hours passengers are screened before being allowed to board an airplane, the American Airlines flight to Chicago each afternoon will take off empty, stranding irritated passengers who only want to go home, or make an medical appointment or attend a business obligation.

Paul W. Trudeau, who described himself as a department head, delivered a blunt ultimatum to the board: Hire more deputies, or no deputies will travel to Dexter each afternoon to meet the federal government’s requirement for a police presence in order to allow passengers to fly.

Mr. Trudeau is not a county department head. The undersheriff is a political appointment by the elected sheriff.

He reports to the sheriff who could not attend because of what was described as attendance at a conference. It turns out that the conference is in Alexandria Bay — not a long drive to Watertown and the county Legislature’s offices. Mr. Trudeau claimed he had been unable to arrange any discussions about the issue with airport management or the federal government because he needed Mr. Burn’s authorization — a hallow excuse since we know there is telephone service between Watertown and Alexandria Bay.

His alleged lack of direction from the sheriff, however, did not prevent him from frightening everyone who has purchased a ticket to fly from Watertown one afternoon in the future. Passengers will now travel to the airport uncertain if they will be able to board an airplane because of the rancor and arrogance of the Sheriff’s Department trumping its obligation to serve Jefferson County’s residents.

Further, it is known that County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann had denied the sheriff’s request for a $1,600 advance to cover hotel expenses while at the conference.

How curious. While the department is faced with an issue that impacts large numbers of residents, the sheriff hides in Alexandria Bay. Is the sheriff trying to get even with Mr. Hagemann and the county for not underwriting a $1,600 hotel bill?

The General Services Committee needs to look elsewhere for the required police officers at the airport. This outburst of pique should result in the county looking to the city of Watertown or the villages of Sackets Harbor or Dexter for officers to staff the airport. The county has a chance to carefully devise a plan that ensures its residents they are protected during the airplane boarding process, that competent officers are employed (especially since many of the village police officers are off-duty sheriff’s deputies) and maybe even reducing the cost of the Sheriff’s Department by leaving the four deputy vacancies open.

The county has endured a litany of irrationality too long to repeat again.

The response is simple. Demand Mr. Burns drive from Alexandria Bay to Watertown and deliver to him a brief message. Assign your deputies to the airport until we arrange alternative police coverage. And halt your hiring plans and live with a smaller department until a new sheriff is elected.

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