Sheriff Timothy B. Howard’s defense of his moonlighting in the banking industry shows once again how someone can be absolutely correct and completely miss the point, anyway. Of course the work he was doing for a contractor working for M&T Bank was “honest, honorable and fulfilling.” That was never the issue.
The issue is whether the elected head of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department – a man with presumably enough work to keep him busy – has any business working another job, and even using his taxpayer-funded sheriff’s car while doing it.
Howard says he was recruited by a local company to work for M&T as it complies with federal laws meant in part to combat terrorism by preventing money laundering. M&T has spent tens of millions of dollars to improve its Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering programs, which were questioned by the Federal Reserve Board in its review of M&T’s pending purchase of Hudson City Bancorp. of New Jersey.
So Howard went to work there, earning $50 an hour, sometimes in the middle of the work day, sometimes not. Only a few people would fail to understand that that’s a problem. Unfortunately, Howard is among them. Either that or he doesn’t care about ensuring that he performs his job as sheriff as thoroughly and professionally as possible.
It’s hard not to conclude that this is simply another episode of the sheriff’s pattern of poor judgment. That deficiency was on display when the jail was plagued with prisoner suicides; it was on display in the aftermath of jail escapes, including that of Ralph “Bucky” Phillips; and it was on display last fall when he pitched for votes by promising not to enforce the state’s new gun law known as the SAFE Act. This is a law enforcement officer who has shown he is without any sense of the propriety his high office demands.
It is true that Erie County’s sheriff is woefully underpaid. Howard’s salary is just $79,000, a ridiculously low figure given the importance of the job to county residents. Incredibly, Howard is paid $32,000 a year less than his undersheriff, Mark N. Wipperman, though it’s fair to say that Wipperman does a better job running the department than his boss.
But if money was a motivating factor for Howard, the answer wasn’t for him to cheat taxpayers of a full-time sheriff by moonlighting as a bank detective. It was to petition the County Legislature and county executive for an increase in pay, and then to rally support for the point. Most sheriffs, though perhaps not this one, could have made a strong case for a higher salary.
Howard finished his contract with M&T and didn’t renew it after learning that The News was looking into his arrangement. It’s hard to imagine why public airing of his bank work would make him quit a job that he insisted was appropriate – unless, of course, he knew it was a bad decision and made it anyway, hoping no one would find out.
Finally, the County Legislature should immediately begin looking at increasing the salary of the sheriff – not this one, but for whoever wins the next election, in 2017. In the meantime, Howard should go do his job – the one he was elected to do.