April 23, 2014

Franklin County DA ticked at legislators


---- — MALONE — Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said he may stop pursuing grants since legislators criticized his use of their technology expert’s time.

And he may back out of a plan seeking ownership of the former U.S. Army Reserve Center.

Legislators confronted Data Processing Director Rob Green about his work on Operation Stonegarden, a federal grant program that has provided money for crime fighting along international borders since 2006.

Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake) reminded Green he was hired to work for the county, not the DA’s Office, “and I want to make sure the county is getting its fair share” of his time.

He said Green’s first obligation should be to the county and its computer systems and servers and that if he can’t promise that, he should look for another job.

Don Dabiew (D-Bombay) said he wanted to be sure the county’s work also comes first.


“Your primary mission ... is Franklin County and county government,” Maroun said. “You do an excellent job for (the DA’s Office), but that’s not why I hired you.”

When asked if he understood what he was being told, Green said, “Yes, sir. I do.”

Champagne was furious to learn of Maroun’s comments and said Green spends about two hours a week on Stonegarden work, which does not adversely impact his regular county duties.

He said Green typically works 40 to 50 hours a week, “not the 35 hours he’d paid for,” adding that the DA’s Office is also a county office that should be able to use Green’s expertise when needed.

“But even if he did spend more time on Stonegarden, if there is a more appropriate way to use that time, I don’t know what it is,” the DA said.


Champagne said the grant program has paid for cameras the county installed and had Green connect in Fort Covington as part of policing the international border with Canada.

But the cameras are also used by the County Emergency Services dispatchers to monitor the water level of the Salmon River, which frequently floods that community.

“I think that is an appropriate use of county resources,” the DA said of Green’s time. 

Each grant, he added, saves the county money in equipment purchases and setup, and it is funding taxpayers didn’t have to come up with for these law-enforcement initiatives.

He said Police Department in the Village of Tupper Lake — where Maroun is mayor — received a license-plate reader through Stonegarden grant funds, and the villages of Malone and Saranac Lake each got a new Chevrolet Tahoe.


“It’s disheartening to hear Mr. Maroun’s comments and disheartening that some of the other legislators, not the new ones, failed to come to our defense, even the county manager,” Champagne said, referring to Thomas Leitz.

“Many of them know firsthand the benefits their communities have had from these grants, and to say (Green’s work on Stonegarden) is not a county expense? It’s insulting.

He said he will request time during an open session of the legislature to explain how important Stonegarden is.

“But I am seriously reassessing the time my office spends on grants and the county as lead in the Reserve Center,” Champagne said, referring to his application to have the federal surplus building on Finney Boulevard turned over to the county.

The reuse proposal the DA drew up would house, to start, the county’s Narcotics and Border Protection Unit with other law-enforcement entities in addition to the Public Health Nursing Service and storage space for Emergency Services equipment.

The Nursing Service is located now at Catherine Street Annex (the former Tru-Stitch building on Catherine Street), which is rented by the county for $7,800 a month — $93,600 annually — according to county auditor Fran Perry in response to a Freedom of Information request.  


“Our office has done all of this to save the taxpayers money when it really should be the job of a grant writer or the county themselves,” the DA said.

“If all my office is going to get is grief for trying to save money, then I will just go back downstairs to court and do what I was elected to do: try cases.

“I have others things to spend my time on.”

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