By W.T. ECKERT
GOUVERNEUR — Delegates of the Jefferson, Lewis, & St. Lawrence Counties Central Trades and Labor Council, AFL-CIO, have voiced their support to have the St. Lawrence County district attorney’s office move into a larger space.
The labor organization passed a resolution Friday during a monthly meeting at Mullin’s Restaurant, following comments from District Attorney Mary E. Rain that promoted the proposed relocation of her office.
The resolution was approved unanimously by the just fewer than 50 delegates, said Gouverneur Mayor Ronald P. McDougall, president of the Central Trades and Labor Council.
“We applauded the legislature, as a whole, for giving the assistant district attorneys the much needed raises,” Mr. McDougall said.
The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators voted 10-4 on June 2 to increase salaries paid to eight assistant district attorneys. The salary increases for all prosecutors total about $48,000 per year.
“We would also like them to take up the issue of space for the DA and the much-needed space adjustment and increase,” Mr. McDougall said. “We think it’s the right thing to do. It’s the best for the citizens of St. Lawrence County and law enforcement to give her the efficiency to do her job.”
According to a report reviewed by county legislators in April, Ms. Rain wants to take over the county Planning and Real Property suites, which also are on the second floor, leaving what is now her primary office behind. County and Supreme Court offices on the first floor could move into the district attorney’s former space. The county attorney could move from the second floor of the Public Safety Building to the first-floor court office. Planning could move into the county attorney’s space.
A new home for Real Property, which has 13 employees along with a number of large maps and equipment, would be more difficult, as it is tied to the clerk’s and treasurer’s offices, and so needs to remain in the courthouse.
A cost has not been finalized, but it could top $600,000.
Ms. Rain was traveling Monday and could not be reached for further comment, but said in a news release that she was “both delighted and encouraged” by the unanimously passed resolution supporting her request for a larger space.
“Since taking office I have been committed to a robust and comprehensive approach to combating crime in St. Lawrence County,” Ms. Rain said. “I was glad to see that the council recognized the proposed expansion as a necessary step toward achieving this mission.”
Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, a delegate representing the Public Employees Federation on the council, said Republican legislators made the move of the DA’s office a political issue.
“There isn’t any question that this is political. The other side has made this a political issue, not only with the ADAs’ pay but with the space,” Mr. Burns said. “I think it is time to move forward, and I certainly support consolidating the people in her office in one space.”
Ms. Rain brought the matter to the council seeking to advocate the move, and Mr. McDougall and Mr. Burns both credited her for her efforts, as it was something he believed the labor organization should have weighed in on years ago.
“I don’t consider this pressure on the legislature; I think the legislature recognizes this,” Mr. McDougall said. “I call it lobbying and I think we recognize, along with the DA and others, that they need more space and we would like to see that more sooner than later.”
“We talked about it two years ago. We agreed that something needed to be done and nothing happened,” Mr. Burns added. “We have a new DA and she would like to have this resolved, and we think it has become a pertinent issue, and I think the board would like to get it resolved and I certainly would, too.”
But Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said the issue of the proposed move is a fiscal one and one that doesn’t have a solid plan.
“I don’t have any issues with a department head advocating for their department,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “I do think that this is an attempt for a department head to put pressure on the legislature. You would have to be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid to think otherwise.”
Mr. Lightfoot said there was no real clear plan for moving the DA’s office, adding that there were “five or six plans” that ranged from doing nothing at all to using multiple spaces on the ground floor of the County Courthouse.
“There is sufficient space that could be utilized, space to give her privacy so that grand jury testimonies would not be compromised as she thinks it is now,” Mr. Lightfoot said.
Two of the plans that are most attractive to Ms. Rain would disrupt five other departments with office space in the courthouse, Mr. Lightfoot said.
“The cost goes from over $500,000 to $750,000, and that doesn’t include engineering and architecture, so you are talking at least $100,000 for those types of things,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “She said she would pay out of her funds her office would receive, but she doesn’t have that kind of money in those funds. So who pays for it? The taxpayer does.”
There is no doubt the district attorney’s office needs more space, but the plans being favored by Ms. Rain are not fiscally responsible, Mr. Lightfoot said.
“The DA needs new space, no doubt. But what about the space the departments need that she is asking to move?” Mr. Lightfoot asked. “Are we supposed to give the DA everything she wants and be damned to everyone else? I don’t think so.”