Running Government Like A Business

Had he not been such a consistent Collins sycophant for so long, I might just feel some sympathy for Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard. After yet another episode of a dangerous detainee being mistakenly released under his tenure, there was something new in the mix – candor. The new Democratic administration and Legislature weren’t looking to place blame, but to solve the problem. 

A longstanding one that’s been known for a long time. 

Howard and Collins had both viciously fought off any criticism from Democratic electeds and politicians like, e.g., then-Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, about hiring more staff to adequately do their jobs. This despite multiple tragic and embarrassing cases of inmate suicides, early releases, and escapes – most notable among them being Ralph “Bucky” Phillips’ escape from the Alden Correctional Facility, which resulted in three shot cops, one of whom died. 

Most recently, an accused attempted murderer was mistakenly released for about 20 hours on March 8th due to an epic paperwork screw-up. Howard was brought before an Erie County Legislature committee to explain what happened. Now unshackled by any loyalty to the Collins crew, Howard was uncharacteristically forthcoming. He blamed the screw-up on overworked deputies and clerks, many of whom were on their third consecutive 16-hour day. Some had made mistakes when entering information from the court, and rebuffed questions about the release from a newer clerk. 

Legislative chairwoman Betty Jean Grant asked Howard whether the Sheriff’s Department had asked for more staff to rectify this issue. 

Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman said yes and that the former county executive punished the department for the request.

“We asked for seven additional records clerks at $13.18 an hour for the 2011 budget, and the executive reponded by cutting all of our secretaries, administrative clerks, and eliminating management positions and reducing my salary,” Wipperman said.

Get that? Collins’ relentless push for “efficiency” and “running government like a business” resulted in punishing the Sheriff’s office for asking for adequate staffing. 

In answer to Hogues’ and Grant’s questions on what steps have been taken to prevent further mistakes on improper inmate releases, Howard said:

  • Paperwork from State Supreme Court and Erie County Court on inmates is now immediately entered into the jail’s computer records once it is sent over from the courts.
  • Efforts have been increased to speed up the activation of a new universal computer system that would electronically transfer the most recent court actions inputed by court clerks, eliminating the need for those records to be manually updated by sheriff’s records clerks.

In addition, Howard said the state’s Commission on Corrections, which oversees local jails, will meet at 2 p.m. Monday with his department to review its final draft of a staffing-needs analysis of the sheriff’s jail management division.

That document is expected to require the county to hire 60 to 80 new employees, both civilian and sworn personnel, to meet the manpower needs of the downtown Buffalo Holding Center and county Correctional Facility in Alden.

What we’re learning is that the Collins-Romney Six Sigma, “run government like a corporate raider” ideology is an abject failure. The needs and goals of government services like running a jail and policing the community cannot be held to the standards of the American private sector. 

Just because a corporate worker is overworked, underpaid, given few benefits, and threatened daily with outsourcing doesn’t mean that’s any way to run a Sheriff’s Department. 

4 comments

  • This article very rightly points out that the need for truth and candor when it comes to decisions potentially affecting life and death are among the most compelling reasons AGAINST running government “like a business.”

    And how this guy got re-elected over a competent & honorable guy like Glascott still has me shaking my head.

  • Unfortunately, this will just give some the idea to push for privitizing the holding center…

  • Aww, poor babies, sucking up all that juicy overtime to keep that six-figure pay, super benes and rack up those golden pension points is sooooo exhausting. Guess we need to cough up even more taxes to pay for a hiring spree to relieve these poor, poor overworked schnooks. Yep. the Dems are back in town!!

  • Since the Dems have been complaining about the staffing, etc., nearly forever, one would think this would have been a top priority of Poloncarz. Did our new CE drop the ball by not acting sooner?

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