LETTER TO THE EDITOR: I believe very deeply that the right thing for voters to do is elect Tom Dougherty Livingston County Sheriff. This is not intended to degrade Undersheriff James Szczesniak. It is because of the state of affairs our sheriff’s department has been in for so many years — as in decades. We badly need someone to swiftly and effectively fix the many problems.
Thirty-nine years ago, while in college, I was sworn in as a part-time deputy by the late Sheriff Douglas J. Welch. (By coincidence I was the deputy who received the 911 call when he suffered his fatal heart attack on July 4, 1976.) I was there part-time for about six years until becoming an attorney. I was also an assistant district attorney for ten years under the late Theodore E. Wiggins, Jr. Thus, I served under the two Sheriffs who preceded Sheriff York, and was an assistant DA when Mr. York became Sheriff. I have also followed the department closely throughout the years.
I was an assistant DA when Jim Szczesniak became a deputy sheriff. Without question he was conscientious and had all the qualities of a good sheriff’s deputy. His 28 years of service are commendable. The rank of Undersheriff is directly below that of Sheriff York. In no way do I intend to attack Jim as a person. Unfortunately, though, he has been in the wrong place at the wrong time for too long. Mr. Dougherty is in a much better position to be our next sheriff.
This letter won’t win friends but someone needs to get the truth to the public. In this situation it would be a travesty and a gross disservice to voters if they weren’t told the true story here.
Despite “accreditations” and other window dressing, the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department has been quite an undesirable place for many years throughout Sheriff York’s terms. Deputies and those of higher rank — who dare get caught talking — and members of the public have been subjected to a great deal of negative treatment. At the same time, the “favor vendor” notoriously gives “courtesies” and favors to those who are “in good.” Those not so situated have been subjected to opposite treatment, threats, intimidation, bullying and other improper things. Truth and forthright honesty has been lacking for many years. (I have the documents and evidence to prove this and put my money where my mouth is.)
To get the sheriff’s department restored to what it should be we need to put personal feelings and sentiment aside. We shouldn’t be talking about “who’s in line for Sheriff” or “who deserves it” or “who has more experience. The true, key, question should be, “Who will do the best job running (and rehabilitating) the sheriff’s department?
One of the biggest things Sheriff York has always been famous for is “micromanaging.” Anyone at any rank, from corporal or sergeant to major, and undersheriff, makes very few decisions on their own, in the normal way. Reality is that Mr. Szczesniak experience may be at the rank of undersheriff, but he has not had the experience a person would ordinarily get at that rank. This is critical. For no matter what rank he has been in, he has not had the experience or learning opportunities. And, worse yet, he has served under and been trained by a Sheriff whose methods and attitudes and commands are inferior to appropriate and proper standards.
Indications are strong that the investigation into possible criminal conduct on the part of deputy sheriffs assigned to the jail has been put “on hold” until after the election. The investigation is in its tenth month. As one knowledgeable officer said, “The state police have solved homicides in less time than that.” It is only a matter of time before the hammer will probably fall for the jail time card matter. Criminal charges are expected. Even if Mr. Szczesniak did nothing wrong, this was still something he was in charge of. We don’t need clouds over the head of a sheriff before he even takes office.
Mr. Szczesniak could have retired about three years ago. He has been compromised by Sheriff York. The best thing for all is for Mr. Dougherty to take over as a “new broom” and give the deputies some relief.
Tied to all this are the photographs of retired law enforcement officers who are openly supporting Mr. Dougherty. It is not a back-slapping group of retired cops. It is a group who is trying to tell the public there needs to be a change. (Some took risk of retaliation to be with that group.) They have served under or during Sheriff York’s regime. They lived with the conditions. They know. They also served with Jim Szczesniak. They are saying, as openly as possible, that putting Jim Szczesniak in as the next sheriff is NOT a change. It is something different, but not enough to be a change.
The same for endorsements from organizations representing present police officers. Sheriff York’s actions through the years have affected most other departments throughout the county. Many officers do not want the York regime to continue. (A writer of a recent letter to the editor was misinformed about subordinates being displeased with Mr. Szczesniak because of discipline-related things; Sheriff York’s micromanaging takes that away from the Undersheriff.)
Tom Dougherty is one of the sharpest, most intelligent and “knows what he’s doing” law enforcement officers I have seen come along since I became a deputy 39 years ago.
My several conversations with him are the greatest breath of fresh air since Sheriff York took office. Mr. Dougherty’s ethics, integrity and principles are so far above the York regime they’re in a different league.
A most important angle here is the admiration and respect Tom Dougherty’s peers have for him. Very, very rarely have I ever seen a group of deputies and others band together to support one of their own for the top spot. Please note that the mutual respect and admiration he and his peers have for each other came together LONG before there was even a hint of his running. I have heard from a number of law enforcement people that Mr. Dougherty is really and truly excellent. And — his age? We’ve had younger sheriffs before. I’d rather have someone who’s going to try to undo all the damage the politically-manipulating John M. York has done.
Let there be a complete and clean end to the York regime, and let Mr. Szczesniak enjoy a well-deserved retirement. Elect Tom Dougherty Livingston County Sheriff this Tuesday.
William A. Mulligan