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Sheriff hires son after nepotism policy changed

QUEENSBURY — Warren County Sheriff Jim LaFarr’s son has been hired as an officer — one year after his appointment was rescinded — following a recent change in the county’s nepotism policy.

Tanner LaFarr joined the department, along with fellow patrol officers Timothy Keehr, Michael Squires and Lukas Whitehouse and communications officers Ryan Grierson, Dylan Reid and Devin Viele, according to a post on the Warren County Sheriff’s Facebook page.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors on June 16 voted to change the nepotism policy as part of a comprehensive revision to its ethics and disclosure policy. Much of the discussion on the policy has centered on forms supervisors must submit, detailing their sources of income and investments.

Warren County Sheriff Jim LaFarr

LaFarr

The old policy said: “no Warren County officer or employee may supervise a relative in the performance of the relative’s official powers or duties.”

The revised policy says: “A department head may undertake to appoint, hire, promote, discipline or discharge a relative if no other county officer or employee can undertake the action, and the action is undertaken in accordance with Civil Service Law and Rules promulgated thereunder for competitive positions.”

In other cases, approval must be obtained from the Warren County Board of Supervisors, which may seek an advisory opinion from the Board of Ethics.

The policy goes on to say that no Warren County employee may directly supervise a relative.

Finding candidates

LaFarr spoke during the public comment portion of that meeting in support of the change. He said the department is having trouble recruiting people for positions.

Not making the change would adversely affect the candidates currently on the civil service list, he said.

He did not mention that his son was one of the candidates on the list.

“Our Sheriff’s Office is not immune to the struggles that are facing New York state on the employment front. We’re struggling to recruit and retain good candidates for law enforcement, corrections, communications,” he said.

For example, he sent out 16 invitations for people to apply to be corrections officers. Only one responded and attended a meeting.

LaFarr said Monday the change was not made just for his son. A similar issue arose with another applicant earlier this year, he said, and that prompted a review of the ethics and disclosure policy.

Essentially, the new policy allows the competitive civil service exam to be the prevailing factor in determining the hiring of personnel — even if the applicant is related to a department head.

“As long as they complete everything necessary under the competitive civil service (process) under New York state, they would be eligible for hire,” LaFarr said.

For a non-civil service position, the application would have to go to the county Board of Supervisors or the county Ethics Board for a review and determination.

LaFarr said Tanner will not be reporting to him. Other administrators will supervise his work and review his performance.

LaFarr said the department publicizes the civil service tests the best it can.

“We want to do everything in our power to ensure that we recruit every good candidate,” he said.

When asked if he thought the increased scrutiny of police departments nationwide was a factor in the lack of applicants, LaFarr said he was not sure.

He pointed out he is not just having trouble finding uniformed officers.

For example, he has been working since January to get the communications center staff up to full strength and has been unable to do so. Typically, that department has had low turnover.

The issue may be the salary and benefits offered when compared to the private sector. His employees seem to enjoy the work they are doing, he said.

He still has one patrol sergeant position to fill. After that, there will not be any available candidates until the next police academy class graduates.

LaFarr pushed for hire in 2020

LaFarr had brought up the possibility of Tanner working for the department as early as November 2019 after he had been elected to the position.

The sheriff even told County Administrator Ryan Moore he would consider resigning if his son was barred from working for the department. He said it was Tanner’s dream to work for the agency where his father has spent his career.

LaFarr later backed off the resignation threat, saying it was made in the heat of the moment.

Tanner LaFarr was originally appointed to a road patrol officer position and was one of four recruits enrolled in the Zone 5 Regional Law Enforcement Academy in July 2020.

Sheriff LaFarr said at the time he had kept out of the hiring process, and Undersheriff Terry Comeau vetted the candidates.

LaFarr rescinded his son’s appointment after the Board of Supervisors met with him in executive session and said the nepotism policy applied.

Overhauling ethics policy

The change to the nepotism policy is one part of the changes to the ethics and disclosure policy.

The county has been reviewing the lengthy financial disclosure forms supervisors are required to submit that detail sources of income and potential conflicts of interest. Some supervisors have suggested that the form be simplified.

Rachel Seeber, chairwoman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, said in an email the county is creating a committee to come up with changes to the form.

Also, the county is reconstituting its ethics board and will be appointing new members in the coming months.

“Moving forward, our local law requires our policy to be reviewed at a minimum every two years by the Board of Supervisors and I would like to encourage members of the public to reach out to me if they are interesting in serving as a volunteer on our important Board of Ethics as we begin the process of complying with this new local law in the coming months. We must be accountable to the people,” she said.

Michael Goot covers politics, crime and courts, Warren County, education and business. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com.

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