Cortland County police union at odds over sheriff endorsement

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Members of the County Police Association of Cortland appear divided as to whether or not the union voted to officially endorse Mark Helms for sheriff of Cortland County.

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CPAC union president David Tobias announced the union’s endorsement Thursday in a press release. Helms, the chief of police for the village of Homer and a former road patrol captain in the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, is running as a Democrat in the November election.

Since CPAC’s announcement, some union members have come forward with information that casts doubt on the CPAC endorsement.

Troy Boice, a union member, said the union held a meeting back in June where they decided not to throw their support behind any candidate. He said the group discussed endorsing a candidate but ultimately voted to remain neutral.

“For the union to say they endorse a specific candidate is not the whole truth,” Boice said. “Obviously, the union president didn’t like how the vote went.”

The union has 33 members that include employees in the road patrol and criminal investigative divisions of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department.

Boice added that by endorsing a candidate, the union puts itself in an awkward position should a different candidate get elected.

“I think for future contract negotiations, we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Boice said. “You endorse one candidate and the other candidate wins, good luck on trying to get any more money or things we need for the union.”

When asked to comment Thursday, Tobias provided a differing account of the meeting.

He said the vote held at the meeting was inconclusive because some union members were absent.

"We had to give the rest of the union the opportunity to vote," Tobias said. "That’s why we didn’t come out until now."

Tobias said all of the votes needed for the endorsement were gathered concurrent to the meeting.

“We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t do it properly,” Tobias said.

He also denied Boice’s account of the meeting, saying the union never voted not to endorse a candidate.

Cortland County Undersheriff Herb Barnhart, who is running against Helms on the Republican ticket, said the issue has created turmoil among some members of the sheriff’s department.

Barnhart, who previously served as president of the police union for roughly a decade, says the union has traditionally avoided endorsing political candidates.

“We never endorsed a candidate, for obvious reasons,” Barnhart said.

Regarding his run for office, Barnhart said he never sought to seek the endorsement of the CPAC union because it would split the department.

“This is exactly why you stay neutral in these kinds of things,” he said.

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