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Gouverneur police chief criticizes trustee

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GOUVERNEUR — The village’s new police chief took issue Tuesday with Shelly Simons-Washburn, a member of the Board of Trustees, whom she said has publicly made harmful statements about the police force, herself and Sgt. Gordon F. Ayen Jr. “Because of her comments I not only have to defend the police department but myself as well and I have done so with facts,” Chief Laurina M. Greenhill said. “Not only do I question whether she made these statements with malicious intent but do they serve the best interest of the village of Gouverneur or her own self-interests?”

In response, Ms. Simons-Washburn said she had nothing against the police department, but has been against the suspension of Officer Steven M. Young, who was brought up on Civil Service charges that he inappropriately used village gasoline. For most of his suspension, the village has been paying his salary. His disciplinary hearing has cost the village at least $30,000 so far.

“As a taxpayer, I am concerned with cost,” Ms. Simons-Washburn said. “That’s why I feel the way I feel.”

At a recent public meeting, Ms. Simons-Washburn questioned if a delay in processing the pistol permit for Gouverneur resident Tanner Young had anything to do with his last name.

“I am not taking issue with the question itself,” Mrs. Greenhill said. “Asking about the delay in pistol permit background checks is a legitimate question. However, Trustee Washburn brought up the name of one particular applicant who she felt their background check was taking too long. She went on to state his name and that his last name is Young. But Trustee Washburn went a step further to make a comment insinuating that the reason behind the delay in his permit background check could be because of his last name.”

Mrs. Greenhill said Tanner Young’s pistol permit application came to the police department in September 2013, the same year the agency had 30 applications, a record number likely due to the passage of the New York SAFE Act. By September of that year, the police department had five road officers on the roster but only three who were working due to an injury and Steve Young’s suspension.

The village board agreed to have Mrs. Greenhill canvass the current Civil Service list to see if there are candidates to fill the position previously held by Tseko T. Vachev, who was recently separated from the force because his injury prevented him from returning to work. Completing background checks for pistol permits is low priority, especially when the department is understaffed, Mrs. Greenhill said. Another applicant has been waiting since May 2013, she said.

“Clearly there are others that have been waiting longer than Mr. Young and clearly Mr. Young’s background check has not been purposefully held up because of his name,” she said.

Ms. Simons-Washburn said she considers part of her role as a trustee to answer questions that constituents have and that Tanner Young approached her.

Ms. Simons-Washburn was the only trustee to vote against Mrs. Greenhill’s appointment as chief. At the time, she told the Watertown Daily Times that she would have been more comfortable if the deal with Steve Young was resolved because Mrs. Greenhill and Mr. Ayen, who had been provisional chief of the department, were so involved.

Mrs. Greenhill said she had no problem with Ms. Simons-Washburn voting against her appointment. But, she questioned her statement about her involvement and that of Mr. Ayen into the Young investigation. “We are the administration of the police department. We had no choice but to be involved,” she said.

“When the police department and the village brought disciplinary charges against Steven Young they were based in fact and evidence. The allegations were not baseless or groundless. He has been afforded the Civil Service process and the conclusion of that process is still pending.”

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