Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith has taken a firm and ethical stand in announcing that he will end his affiliation with the Maine Sheriffs’ Association if Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross continues as the organization’s president.
The mission of the nonprofit Maine Sheriffs’ Association is to raise “the level of professionalism in the criminal justice field.” Sheriff Smith doesn’t believe Sheriff Ross is committed to that mission, and wants Ross tossed.
It seems Smith has cause to doubt Ross’ professionalism.
In November, hours before his friend the Rev. Robert Carlson leaped to his death from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, Ross twice spoke with the reverend by phone, telling Carlson that he was under state police investigation.
Ross told the Bangor Daily News that he didn’t provide his friend with details of the sex abuse investigation, but only told Carlson in order to explain why the reverend would no longer have access to the Penobscot County Jail.
He was, Ross said, thinking of the safety of the inmates.
However, an investigation by the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department into Carlson’s death indicated Ross called Carlson to tell him about the investigation because he didn’t want his longtime friend to be “blindsided.”
Showing such distinct favoritism toward a pal under criminal investigation is not in keeping with the professional standards of Maine’s law enforcement officers.
Ross isn’t taking Smith’s criticisms quietly. He told the BDN that Smith “is more interested in creating a ‘media event’ with his allegations than being a champion for law enforcement ethics.”
Ross , in a post on the Sheriffs’ Association website, wrote about the challenges in keeping our communities safe and called on his fellow officers to “work together as crime knows no boundaries.”
From a practical standpoint, it would be hard to imagine Smith and other law enforcement officers trusting in Ross’ ability to work together when, according to Smith, it’s just “not normal” for an officer to inform someone “they are under investigation by other agencies.”
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said it didn’t appear Ross broke any law in informing his friend, a potential criminal defendant, of a police investigation. That may be true, but it certainly violated the professional trust of his fellow officers and Smith is right to call him out.
We have to be able to trust police.
In June, the Maine Heritage Policy Center made a request — under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act — to the Maine State Housing Authority for public records of expenditures over a 13-year period.
The request was for dates, amounts and categories of spending in MaineHousing’s “checkbook,” according to Sam Adolphsen, director of the Center for Open Government at MHPC, or access to “essentially every check they wrote.”
Many months later, the MHPC received a partial list of vendors and vendor addresses. The identity of some of the vendors was redacted, and no information on expenditure dates or amounts by vendor was provided.
The MHPC paid $800, representing 90 hours of MaineHousing efforts, for a vendor list with aggregate amounts by year because, according to MaineHousing’s denial, its computer system doesn’t “keep” records of expenditures by date and vendor amounts.
Maine law does not require government to create records in response to FOAA requests, only to provide access to records it already keeps.
Are we to believe that MaineHousing cannot produce its checkbook register for more than a decade? In whole or in part?
Government certainly expects us citizens to do that when it comes to accounting income taxes and other taxes owed, and we have no less of an expectation that government must do the same when it comes to accounting for public spending.
As a nod to the public’s very real right to know, we encourage MaineHousing to revisit MHPC’s original FOAA request and respond to it in full. Quickly. And at no additional charge.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.