It’s true, there is an idea afloat in Schenectady to make the county sheriff simultaneously the city police chief, and the person who put it afloat, he freely acknowledges, is Mayor Gary McCarthy, even though he hasn’t said anything publicly.
“The sheriff and I have had informal discussions,” McCarthy said. “I don’t have his quote blessing to pursue it, but he hasn’t ruled anything out.”
As for McCarthy’s own requirement that a new police chief live in the city, he said Dagostino, who lives in Rotterdam, “has been looking at property in the city.”
Dagostino confirmed that’s the case but said, “It has nothing to do with whether or not I was going to be considered as a potential law enforcement officer in the city of Schenectady.” He has just been looking for a bigger place for him and his six-member family.
As for becoming police chief, “I don’t think you’re going to see this. It’s completely unrealistic,” he said, noting that state law prohibits a sheriff from holding any other public office.
That might seem to be the end of the matter, but McCarthy says, “We talk about consolidation of services. We have an opportunity to look at something, so why shouldn’t we do that?” And besides, “There are other scenarios I’m exploring,” which he would not discuss.
Well, consolidation, fine, you might say, but giving the sheriff the additional job of police chief is a bit more than a consolidation of services. “It’s frankly a little unheard of,” said Wayne Bennett, Schenectady’s public safety commissioner, who, by the way, has not been party to these informal discussions.
Could a full-time sheriff also be a full-time police chief if state law, let’s say, were rewritten to allow it? Former Sheriff Harry Buffardi was doubtful, saying the job of sheriff is “full-time plus.”
McCarthy says some of the duties “can be delegated or assumed by other individuals,” so that one person could indeed do both jobs. “A lot of chiefs run forces bigger than the Schenectady Police Department and the sheriff’s office combined,” he said, which I didn’t think was a great comparison, though I am no expert in management.
The city is supposed to hire a new chief from the top three candidates on the current Civil Service list, those being Assistant Chiefs Patrick Leguire, Brian Kilcullen and Mike Seber, but McCarthy has ruled them all out because none of them live in the city, which is a requirement he imposed after the Civil Service test was given.
He made clear he was not happy that the test was given as “promotional” rather than “open competitive,” which meant it was limited to the assistant chiefs and no others needed apply. He has to sign off on every little personnel change in the city bureaucracy, he noted, but he did not get to sign off on the request to the Civil Service Commission for the chief’s test. That was submitted by Chief Mark Chaires, soon to retire.
Now, I am much more interested in the political implications of all this than I am in the purely administrative. Sheriff Dagostino is not just an elected official, he is a stalwart of the Conservative Party, which has long been controlled by the union of Schenectady police officers, the PBA.
The Democrats, including Mayor McCarthy, have been in on-again, off-again alliance with the Conservatives for a long time, and lately the alliance has been entirely “on,” to the extent that when the previous sheriff, Buffardi, resigned before the end of his term, the Democrats, in control of the county Legislature, left the job open for nearly a year to give Dagostino the opportunity to retire with 20 years of service from the Rotterdam Police Department, where he was a lieutenant, and become the candidate of both the Democratic and Conservative parties.
A widespread rumor at the time had it that if he got elected he would hire his Conservative Party comrade, Bob Hamilton, past president of the PBA, to be his undersheriff. He vigorously denied it and assured me no such thing would happen.
Technically, he was true to his word. When he got elected he hired Hamilton not as undersheriff but as first deputy. And thus was the marriage between the Democrats and Conservatives consummated, much like a marriage between two old aristocratic families in feudal England.
So you have to keep all that in mind when you hear that Mayor McCarthy, Democratic field commander, is now proposing that Sheriff Dagostino assume the office of Schenectady police chief.
Santa Maria! That would put the Conservative Party, which is practically synonymous with the PBA, in the catbird seat. The PBA would be running the show from top to bottom, just like in the bad old days, when it used to be said that the department was run from the offices of Grasso and Grasso, which was the PBA’s law firm, around the corner from the police station.
I said, how about bring Bob Hamilton over and make him chief? Then you wouldn’t have to worry about any state prohibition on the sheriff holding two jobs.
Maybe you remember, it was Hamilton as PBA president (and Conservative Party chairman) who famously worked just five or six days a year at his police job while taking the rest of the time off for undocumented “union business,” and collected full pay in the bargain. There would be no more conflict. It would be all PBA.
“I don’t see a scenario where that would happen,” McCarthy said dryly.
He denied, of course, that there were any political considerations in his proposal. “It’s not part of my thought process,” he said, to my vast amusement. “I’m trying to do something that provides structural change that’s independent of participants who are there now. You try to do something that will be positive, and people look at it in a negative way. It’s the Schenectady way.”
Carl Strock is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Reach him at email@example.com.