Glenn Olds is paying too heavy a price for what is undisputedly a professional indiscretion. The truth is that what he did is no worse than what almost anyone would have done in similar circumstances.
Olds is the deputy Clinton County clerk and supervisor of the Department of Motor Vehicles. New York State Parole Board member Chris Ortloff, a former assemblyman, went to Olds back in 2008 with an unusual request: Run a license-plate check on a particular driver.
Olds probably knew confidentiality interests dictated against that. However, Ortloff was a member of the powerful Parole Board. Wouldn't he have some authority that transcends the guy on the street's? Besides, Ortloff said he was just trying to help out the subject of the inquiry. Sounds harmless enough.
How was Olds to know the request revolved around an investigation into Ortloff, himself, in what would become the highest-profile, most-talked-about criminal case in the North Country in decades?
Not only that, but Ortloff, a Republican member of the State Assembly for two decades, was known to be the most savvy, often vindictive politician around. It was certainly known to Olds, who was a Republican politician himself.
We learned during the Watergate experience that merely following orders of a superior is not defensible, as most of the political conspirators were sent to prison — save for President Nixon, who resigned in humiliation but was excused by his hand-picked successor, President Ford, from prosecution. Many people would have believed the president's will superseded in practicality the laws of the land.
We're not equating a request from Ortloff with a request from the president, but the principle is the same: A person of high stature and power asks a favor, and few people — scarcely suspecting serious crime is afoot — would be righteous enough to refuse. Particularly when the outcome appeared so benign.
Olds never handed over the information, as the request was blocked, since the driver raising Ortloff's suspicions was an undercover police officer.
Olds is not completely without fault in this situation. After an initial investigation by the state, his password was taken away as punishment for using DMV computers to check the number.
Why did the state DMV take his password away and expect him to continue functioning? The directive seems at odds with service to the department's public. But County Clerk John Zurlo tells us there was still plenty of work that Olds could complete in supervising the DMV office and doing all the required reports and paperwork.
Where Olds overstepped was in using the computer password of a person out on disability to do work after his I.D. had been taken. And that is what he is under investigation for and the reason he resigned. He should have known better than to access the system after being told to stay off it.
If what we have learned through reporting this issue is the extent of the accusations against Olds, too great a penalty has been levied.
Punish him, but don't punish the public, too, by allowing the departure of a seasoned, effective employee for a dubious error in judgment.