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Command position remains open at Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department

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An administrative position at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has been vacant for about three weeks, but Sheriff John P. Burns says he is facing a roadblock in appointing his next criminal division commander.

Three of his sergeants would like the job, but not for the money being offered.

Since Lt. Michael S. Peterson retired Sept. 22, no replacement, not even on a temporary basis, has been appointed. Sheriff Burns said he and Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff are handling the lieutenant’s responsibilities, which include scheduling, regulating overtime duty, writing policy and sitting on various boards in the police and civilian communities.

“The lieutenant is the first person in line for sergeants to call in the case of major events,” the sheriff said. And the lieutenant responds to those situations.

Sergeants Kevin H. Amann, Joseph F. Cullen Jr. and Victor M. Rodriguez “put in letters” expressing their interest in succeeding Mr. Peterson, Mr. Burns said. But in the same letters, they explained why they can’t accept the appointment.

Sgt. Cullen’s letter, reflecting the trio’s shared concern, expressed it most succinctly: “I feel that the salary the county is offering does not adequately compensate for the additional duties and responsibilities that come with that position, as compared to my current salary as sergeant,” he wrote.

According to the sheriff, the county is offering the lieutenant’s salary at $66,630, which is identical to the base salaries of the department’s sergeants — subordinates of the lieutenant.

The lowest pay among the department’s sergeants last year was $71,000, the sheriff said.

Sheriff Burns said the deputies’ union contract, which was negotiated with the county, guarantees sergeants four hours of overtime pay within each two-week pay period, as well as extra money for 15 minutes of each workday because they come in early for change-of-shifts briefings.

The lieutenant, not a union member, does not have that benefit, Sheriff Burns said.

The same issue came up five years ago, when Lt. Peterson actually resigned from his rank so he could bring home more money as a sergeant. He pulled his request when the county responded with a pay raise, Sheriff Burns said.

The sheriff said he sent an email on Oct. 3 to county administration and the Board of Legislators, notifying them of the problem he is facing. He said he was frustrated that a week later, he had received no responses.

“We understand his concerns,” said Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown, chairwoman of the Board of Legislators. “I respect his concerns, and I am trying my best to help the sheriff. But at the same time, we have to watch how we are spending the taxpayers’ money.”

Mrs. Fitzpatrick attributed the tardy response to Mr. Burns’s email to the fact that “we are in the middle of budget discussions right now.”

She added, “There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have issues that other department heads come to us with, but I’m not saying this is not important.”

She promised, “It will be discussed. We will certainly be looking at it. In the coming weeks, we will see what we can do.”

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