Twelve days after Oneida County Corporation Counsel Brian Desmond announced that the county's civil service commission planned to file a complaint against a detective sergeant that group has forwarded to the county's law enforcement grievance committee a 109-page document seeking the dismissal of former Northcentral Drug Enforcement Group (NORDEG) head Sara Welcenbach (formerly Gardner).
The 109-page charging document, which alleges Welcenbach committed eight separate offenses that are grounds for disciplinary action and/or dismissal, was approved by the Civil Service Commission Wednesday (Dec. 28) and signed by sheriff Grady Hartman, chief deputy Dan Hess and civil service commission chairman Tim Melms.
The offenses include commission of a crime under any law, willful neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming of an officer or detrimental to the service, general inefficiency and incompetency, making a false official statement or entry in official records, misuse or unauthorized use of department equipment, and any other conduct or omission contrary to good order and discipline, or constituting a violation of any of the provisions of the rules and regulations of the department.
Specifically, Welcenbach is accused of making false entries into a ledger used to track funds used for the Oneida County NORDEG unit's controlled drug buys, between May 30 and July 14, 2014 and Aug. 17, 2012 and Nov. 3, 2013. She is also accused of shopping at Walmart while on duty on one occasion.
Welcenbach is also the subject of a criminal case related to the NORDEG funds. She was charged Nov. 2 with two felony counts of misconduct in public office. A hearing is set for Jan. 18 in that case.
Investigation and due process
During jail administrator Mark Neuman's interview of Welcenbach, when she asked what case he was referring to when asking questions related to the NORDEG funds, she was told "knowing the case is not relevant to the questions."
At one point during his line of questioning Neuman asked Welcenbach if she was mad at him. When she said that she was, his response was "good."
After the criminal charges were filed Nov. 2, Sheriff Grady Hartman released a statement stating that Welcenbach "has tarnished the badge of every sworn officer who has promised to protect and serve" despite the fact that her fate has not been determined in court.
Prior to entering closed session to discuss the investigation on Wednesday, the promotional process for sergeants was listed on the Civil Service Commission's agenda.
"We currently have two patrol sergeant openings and a detective sergeant opening - excuse me, a potential detective sergeant opening - should the charges progress with the law enforcement grievance committee," Hartman told the commission. "So what I would like to do is I would like for you guys to start a promotional process. We would take care of that. Post that. We would set a date in the future for civil service interviews for the detective sergeant and sergeant candidates."
When asked if he felt it was appropriate to hold interviews for a position (held by Welcenbach) that had yet to be vacated, Hartman said that it was standard practice for the promotional process regardless of opening.
"Typically we do one promotional process per year, whether there's openings or not," Hartman said.
When asked why he specifically mentioned Welcenbach's job if that was the case, he stuck to his answer.
Hartman was then asked if he felt that Welcenbach was receiving due process in lieu of his previous statement and setting up interviews for her job while the criminal case and the grievance case are still pending.
"I've seen the evidence," Hartman said, referring to the case against Welcenbach. "I'm convinced."
When pressed about whether she has been given her due process in regards to allowing the hearing to occur before attempting to interview for her position, Hartman refused to give a direct answer.
Now that a written complaint has been filed with the grievance committee, Welcenbach must be notified and provided a copy of the allegations.
Welcenbach can request a hearing but if she chooses not to do so the grievance committee must still meet and make findings in reference to the charges.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.
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