FULTON COUNTY -- Two Republicans have declared their candidacy for Fulton County sheriff in November: incumbent Richard Giardino and challenger Donald VanDeusen, former Gloversville police chief.
VanDeusen, a town of Johnstown resident and Town Board member, issued a news release Sunday starting his intention to challenge Giardino. VanDeusen highlighted his career in law enforcement, starting as a patrol officer in Gloversville in 1990, his service as police chief from 2012 to 2016 and his current job as school resource officer in the Oppenheim Ephratah St. Johnsville High School.
"I will be campaigning on a foundation that the Office of Sheriff is best filled by an experienced law enforcement officer who has the necessary skill set, through training and experience, to lead a law enforcement agency," VanDeusen stated. "I believe that my level of experience, leadership, and training make me a qualified person for this job."
Giardino on Monday issued a release stating his intention to run for re-election. Giardino said he will have a formal press conference to kick off his campaign soon.
"As sheriff, my primary responsibility is the day-to day-operations of the Fulton County Sheriff's Office. I will continue to focus on public safety matters to ensure the best service we can provide to members of the community," Giardino said. "At the same time, my leadership team will continue to focus on training, equipment upgrades and support for the members of all the divisions. We have restored both the navigation patrol and the snowmobile patrol thanks to public support and with the approval of the Board of Supervisors."
Giardino, a Mayfield resident, served as a county judge and as Fulton County district attorney before winning election as sheriff in 2015 with a vote count of 7,098-1,602 against state court Officer Darren Smith.
In their respective announcements both candidates highlighted issues they would like to tackle as sheriff.
VanDeusen said he believes school-age youth and the elderly are the two most vulnerable populations in Fulton County. He said he'd like to establish increased training for senior citizens, specifically in the areas of protecting them from the various scams that target them.
"I have experience in conducting numerous trainings in the past with various senior citizens groups and would make it a priority of my office to do this consistently to combat current and future trends to scam and steal from them," VanDeusen said.
He said he'd also like to move the county toward providing resource officers for each of the rural school districts.
Giardino's focused on elements of his record over the past four years as sheriff. He highlighted the $1.9 million in pistol applications processed by the sheriff's civil division, the 24/7 support for all law enforcement, fire and EMS units provided by the county dispatch center and progress his administration has made with the County Jail.
"The corrections facility continues to operate at levels not seen in years. While the number of inmates housed has increased the staff size has not increased. The COs [corrections officers] are being tasked with more responsibilities on a daily basis and they continue to meet the demands despite the lack of necessary additional staff," he said.
Giardino said he intends to fight for higher pay and benefits for the sheriff's deputies as a means of increasing officer retention.
"We spend tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on training our new deputies just to have them leave after two or three years. They usually leave for more money and benefits just as they are hitting their stride as law enforcement officers. We must ensure that they are compensated fairly and competitively to provide them with a reason to stay," he said.
Giardino and VanDeusen crossed rhetorical swords over the summer during a controversy involving then 118th Assembly District candidate Robert Smullen. Smullen alleged VanDeusen had broken county ethics rules by disclosing information from his personnel file as a member of the town's Board of Assessment Review during a town meeting. It was later revealed that Smullen has no personnel file with the town.
During the constrovery Smullen made two criminal complaints to the Fulton County Sheriff's Department. Giardino's office issued a news release in August addressing Smullen's complaint, acknowledging Smullen made two complaints: one about someone "trespassing and possibly stalking" him on his property. Giardino said his office investigated that complaint and determined it was unfounded -- the subject of the complaint was a subcontractor unaffiliated with any political campaign, though Giardino did not release the person's name.
Giardino said his office turned over the criminal complaint against VanDeusen to the Fulton County District Attorney's Office due to "pre-existing connections between the sheriff and both Mr. Smullen and town councilman and former Gloversville Police Chief VanDeusen."
VanDeusen during the controversy blasted Giardino for releasing a press release saying there was a criminal investigation involving him.
"In my experience, 25 years in law enforcement, a first-year law enforcement officer would not have released my name out under these circumstances out to the press," VanDeusen said.
VanDeusen stated he believed Giardino was attempting to hurt his future candidacy for sheriff.
Giardino denied political motivations being part of his news release.
"I referred this to the DA's office, without making any determinations about it, because Mr. Smullen said that he filed a criminal complaint with us," Giardino said. "I didn't see any criminal action that Mr. VanDeusen allegedly did. I didn't see any criminal conduct. I didn't think our office should be involved because I knew both of them."
In his news release announcing his candidacy for sheriff, VanDeusen listed eliminating conflicts of interest as among his reasons to run for sheriff.
"If elected sheriff of our county I will work hard to ensure equal protection and enforcement for all persons. I will also work hard to eliminate and will not create conflicts of interest that would be obstacles to achieving these equal protections and enforcement," he said.