LITTLE VALLEY – Cattaraugus County Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb on Wednesday formally asked the County Legislature to allow him to bring in a part-time permit clerk to help handle all of the new applications for pistol permits that have flooded his office since the implementation of the state’s new gun- control law.
“Right now, from submission of the application to approval, without any ‘speed bumps’ along the way, in terms of arrests, drug and alcohol screening, we are looking at between three and six months,” Whitcomb said. “This position is to help with the backlog we have. Just to get to the interview process, we are booking appointments into April.”
The new position also will help to streamline an anticipated retirement in 18 to 24 months, Whitcomb told the legislators.
“The current clerk has been in position for quite some time,” he said. “This will be a competitive hire to be able to train someone for a smooth transition when that retirement comes.”
Legislator James J. Snyder, R-Olean, expressed his concern over the forms to allow for permit holders to opt out of having their names being part of a public list under the Freedom of Information Act. The current influx of forms coming into the County Clerk’s Office has become overwhelming, he said, but it represents a small percentage of the permit holders of the county. His concern is that the need to complete the opt-out forms has not been communicated well, and lawful pistol permit-holders may find themselves on a list through no fault of their own.
“We have roughly 15,000 people in the county that have pistol permits,” he said. “That’s one in five of the population of the county. Wouldn’t it have been easier for the state to have created a system that would have had those 15,000 people not have to do anything? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to have to opt in? This is also creating a large amount of extra work for the clerk’s office.”
As an illustration of the point, County Clerk James K. Griffith and his clerk who handles the applications, Linda Gordon, showed the legislators a stack of more than 1,000 of the opt-out applications that had come into the office over the previous 10 days.
“We are getting an average of 100 of these a day,” Griffith said. “Some of them have comments on the bottom, telling us how angry these people are about the new law. These people are also becoming pretty suspicious of government and forms. I have heard from some people that they are afraid to fill out the forms because they will be labeled troublemakers and will be among the first to lose their guns.”
Another aspect of the form is that the four selections are making people nervous about filling out the form incorrectly, Griffith said. “The whole reason this form was created was for personal privacy, and that’s not even a selection.”
Filling out the form incorrectly, or dishonestly, is a Class A misdemeanor, according to Thomas Brady, county attorney.
The members of the Legislature voted to approve the part-time position in the Sheriff’s Office.
The Legislature’s next meeting will be March 13.