TWO MEN, EACH WITH YEARS of police experience, are running for the office of sheriff of Columbia County. It’s a four-year term and a big job. The sheriff runs the jail. The Sheriff’s Office also operates a county-wide road patrol and an investigative unit, among other services.
The candidates are the incumbent sheriff, David Bartlett, and one of his employees, Donald Krapf. Sheriff Bartlett is seeking a third term. He has been with the Sheriff’s Office 37 years, rising through the ranks until he got to the top 8 years ago.
First Sergeant Krapf is in charge of the Security Services Division. He has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 23 years and is team commander of the Shared Services Response Team and of the Rope Rescue Unit among other duties.
Sgt. Krapf has made transparency the cornerstone of his campaign. A Don Krapf for Sheriff campaign postcard says the county needs a sheriff who… “earns trust through transparency.” And in his candidate statement to The Columbia Paper he wrote that there’s “a great need for transparency and accountability.” Aside from emphasizing his own transparency it’s likely that this text is a not-so-subtle reference that the sheriff’s opponents believe the sheriff has some transparency deficits of his own.
It involves the case of Harold Handy, who was allegedly assaulted by several people at a party in Kinderhook in July 2020. Among the four alleged assailants was a Deputy Sheriff named Kelly Briscoe Rosenstrach. She and her husband, Alex Rosenstrach, owned the house where the incident took place. Both have been charged, along with two others, with the assault.
At the time of the alleged assault, family and friends of Harold Handy asked why an outside police agency was not called in to take over the investigation. Now, with the case still awaiting trial, the rumors and theories persist. Sheriff Bartlett responded to a question about the case in his recent interview with The Columbia Paper. He said that State Police assisted in the initial investigation and eventually agreed to take over the investigation. The sheriff’s comments were similar to what he said in a release just after the investigation. It wasn’t a model of transparency.
On October 14, 2021 the Albany Times Union published a story by Roger Hannigan Gilson reporting that the health and fitness club owned by Mr. Rosenstrach had donated $2,900 to the Bartlett campaign long before the alleged assault happened. The story said that the sheriff had not returned the money more than three months after the incident. When Mr. Gilson asked the sheriff about the money, the sheriff issued a statement that said in part, “No contribution of any amount from any person has any effect on how this office operates….” Any way you say it, that statement was no triumph of transparency either.
Don’t make a politically savvy sheriff angry. Perhaps Sgt. Krapf thought he could avoid being caught up in a transparency contest. But he couldn’t. Last week the Bartlett campaign’s postcard from the county GOP offered a “comparison” of the candidates’ credentials: a color photo of the smiling sheriff versus a scowling Sgt. Krapf in black and white. Next to the sergeant’s photo the postcard said in green type, “Disciplined for multiple domestic disturbances, (Source Krapf personnel file legally obtained via NYS FOIL).” Those last four initials stand for Freedom of Information Law.
Will the Bartlett campaign show us what’s in that personnel file? They don’t have to. The damage is done. And if Sgt. Krapf’s transparency doesn’t include his own records, how do we redefine what transparency means?
Did the sheriff serve the public interest by quoting a personnel file with no additional context or date? Another of his postcards says he “Does the Right Thing. Every Time.” Should we have a sheriff who has achieved perfection? Or should it be the candidate who wants us to believe he can make us safer by adopting methods he may not apply to himself?
I say neither. I will vote but not for sheriff. I dread the thought but it’s the one statement of protest I possess other than no endorsement for this office.