GUEST APPEARANCE: Ontario County Report 209: Hey, Where’s the Beef? | Opinion

Just five pages long, the 209 Investigative Committee Report reads like a sketchy document and lacks important detail with no new information to help us understand the very serious misconduct allegations against the former County Sheriff. Ontario, Kevin Henderson, and other county staff.

The 209 Board of Inquiry was formed by the Ontario County Board of Supervisors in September 2021 to conduct an investigation into the conduct and performance of the Ontario County Sheriff and other members of his administration. After seven months on the job, no evidence has been presented in the report to support the multiple allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior by the former sheriff.

A careful reading of the 209 report does not support the conclusion that Sheriff Henderson engaged in sexual harassment, as was alluded to in statements made to the press by county officials last fall. If the 209 Committee found evidence of sexual harassment by the former sheriff, why wasn’t that mentioned in their report? Since no criminal charges were laid, it can be assumed that no laws were violated.

Yet county leaders demanded the resignation of the popularly elected sheriff, which he did in late September 2021, before the 209 Committee even began its work in earnest. Forcing the resignation of a popularly elected sheriff before the public could digest the facts of the case against him was simply wrong. It looked then – and reads now – like a political ax.

None of us should accept or tolerate workplace harassment. Report 209 describes a new structure and internal policies that have been put in place to protect those who report harassment without fear of retaliation.

It is striking that it took the county administration so long to take these steps.

It is clear from reading Report 209 that the sheriff’s office had one set of policies and procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints while other county departments had another – and that the existence of sexual harassment committee within the sheriff’s office was unknown to county officials until the 209 Committee investigation. The sheriff’s office was free to conduct its own internal investigations long before taking office of Sheriff Henderson.

The Board of Supervisors and county administrators bear some responsibility for allowing this for so many years. How many other complaints of workplace harassment and inappropriate behavior have gone unanswered? Reading between the lines of Report 209, one might conclude that employees of the Sheriff’s Office have long been concerned about how internal investigations of policy violations are handled.

If there is a silver lining in this sordid story, I would say that in 2022, Ontario County officials finally took workplace harassment seriously. It is officially recognized that allegations of harassment deserve an impartial hearing without retaliation, and that county employees who engage in such unacceptable behavior will be held accountable.

This episode brought to light many troubling aspects of county government. It was wrong to force a popularly elected sheriff to resign before the facts of the case against him were made public. And, it was a mistake for the board of supervisors to use the coverage of the closed sessions to discuss the merits of this case.

We deserve to know the truth and facts of this case so we can make our own decision about the conduct of the former sheriff and others in the department. Report 209 left many questions unanswered.

Maria Bucci lives in Canandaigua.