At forum all 3 sheriff candidates impressed, but Organisciak stood out for commitment to enforce all laws

Posted 24 October 2015 at 12:00 am


Tom Rivers did a commendable job of reporting the Orleans County Sheriff’s candidate forum. As he noted, there were several areas where Tom Drennan, Randy Bower and Don Organisciak seemed to basically agree. More revealing were the areas in which they disagreed.

They disagreed on the importance of accreditation. While Randy had his doubts about its merits, Don and Tom appeared to think it more worth pursuing. As I recall, among other things, Don said it might help secure grants and lower insurance costs and Tom stressed uniformity of service.

Another subject of disagreement involved the County’s Drug Task Force, which is currently under the direction of the District Attorney. Drennan and Organisciak offered rationales for keeping it that way. Bower took the view that the Task Force should operate under the direction of the Sheriff.

To me, Bower’s position showed independence and courage, as he questioned the status quo.

A question about diversity was asked. Tom Drennan took the question after Randy and Don had basically interpreted it in terms of gender diversity. There was the usual talk about the civil service exam and the difficulty of getting people to take it. Tom was the only candidate who suggested the importance of having minorities apply. None of them addressed the possibility of recruiting.

I was personally disappointed that none of the candidates seemed to appreciate the need for greater ethnic diversity, though Tom mentioned African-Americans. Randy did note, accurately in my view, that, depending on the situation, female officers can often be more effective, as they may be perceived as far less threatening.

At the beginning, a question was asked about enforcement of the S.A.F.E. Act. The responses were enlightening. None of the candidates indicated any interest in breaking down the doors of otherwise law-abiding people in order to seize AR-15’s. The notion that, because sheriffs are the only elected law enforcement professionals, they should take their cues from the people who elected them was raised. This view discounts the principle set forth in Article VI of the Constitution that states are bound by the Constitution and Federal law. It similarly discounts the idea that State law applies to all the jurisdictions within the State.

Despite the fact that S.C.O.P.E. co-hosted the event, Don Organisciak made it clear that, as Sheriff, it was his job to enforce the law regardless of his personal opinion about it. He could not pick and choose what laws he was to enforce even if pressured to do so.

Interestingly, a question about off-duty recreational use of marijuana brought unequivocal agreement from all the candidates. To what degree did their answers reflect the status of marijuana under the law?

Legislatures make laws. The courts interpret them, decide when they apply, and determine their Constitutionality. Sheriffs, as an arm of the executive, carry out the law. For example, under the S.A.F.E. Act, if a judge orders someone under an order of protection to seek mental health counseling, a sheriff would be in the position of having to enforce the judge’s order. If a judge ordered such a person to turn over his/her firearms, the sheriff might become similarly involved.

To me, all this is about respecting a system that has worked for over 200 years.
Sheriffs are supposed to lead. Sheriffs are usually thought of as enforcers of the law. Each of the candidates found the marijuana question a no-brainer. After all, how can respect for the law be taught when a sheriff openly defies the law? What type of example would such a leader provide? One might ask, “If a sheriff can defy the law, why can’t I?”

Don Organisciak showed his maturity and courage by not saying what the bulk of this audience may have preferred to hear. They nonetheless showed him respect. And he should be respected, even if one disagrees with his view of what a sheriff’s proper role is. As an aside, the civility shown by everyone at the forum was a tribute to Orleans residents and the democratic process.

Anyone who attended this event with an open mind had to be impressed by the seriousness of these three candidates. I continue to believe they are all capable and qualified.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent