- By Dan Veaner
Originally from the Catskills, Ken Lansing came to Central New York in 1973 after graduating from college. Has lived in Trumansburg with his wife Kim since 1975. They have four children, Sean, Denise, Jason, and Chad, and six grandchildren. He has served for 37 years in law enforcement, 33 of them in the Cayuga Heights Police, from which he retired in 2007 as Chief of Police. He took time out of his campaign schedule to talk to The Lansing Star on Tuesday.
Lansing Star: Why are you running now?
Ken Lansing: I was involved in law enforcement during the incumbent's tenure, when he became Sheriff. I've worked with him and his department. When I retired in 2007 my intentions were to just enjoy retirement, but I did take up part time employment with the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department and with a private detective to keep myself occupied.
I ran a couple of times for Undersheriff. When Peter first ran I ran as Mark Dresser's Undersheriff. When Tim Little ran I also ran with him. Then a gentleman from Seneca County who asked me to run with him. So I'm oh for three in the Undersheriff category! (laughs)
I looked at it and said change is needed. People have come to me and expressed that. I decided I would take on the challenge to come into the political arena and run for the Sheriff's position. I truly believe that strongly. It's not a whim. I've never had any aspirations to be the Sheriff. Titles are not a big deal to me. I just feel it's right. I can make the Sheriff's Department a great place to work and serve the community.
LS: Four years ago the campaign almost boiled down to management versus law enforcement experience. You are running on your police experiencing. What do you offer in the management area?
KL: I don't even want to take it to law enforcement. I like to say manager or CEO, as Peter refers to himself, to leadership. There is a difference between managers and leaders. First of all, leaders have followers, people that want to follow you and do what's right by you and the department. Managers just do that: they manage. They have subordinates. That's the extent of it. Leaders focus on people. I'm a people person. Managers focus on systems.
Yes, to be a good leader you have to have management skills. There is no doubt about that. To me that's maybe fifteen, maybe twenty percent of the leadership formula.
Take any profession, not just law enforcement. If the person at the top -- of that corporation or fire department or whatever -- the chief has not experienced the things on the ground floor that the men and women do, like shift work and holiday work... Police work is very restrictive on families. It's very cumbersome to manage your time between your children and your loved ones, and very demanding on your personal life. It is the job of the leader to know that, and you only know that because you went through it. I remember those holidays and the special parties and events that i had to miss because I was in law enforcement.
Knowing that as a successful leader I don't make those restrictions harder on them. I try to alleviate them by being more understanding, not forgetting where I came from, and that these things can happen. You try to address it in schedules. You try to be fair about things that might come up and try to figure them out and work with the men and women that work with you to accommodate them so they can have those special days off, those special events with their children.
That's where I come from: the idea of leadership versus management. I think this is what has gotten the incumbent in trouble. He has none of these experiences, and it's very hard to relate. If you can't relate other people see that and they start to wonder why are we making these decisions.
LS: When I look at the endorsements for both candidates I see that Peter has many more in numbers, some organizations, and many past and present leaders from our community. The 'elephant in the room' for you is the Tompkins County Democratic Committee's endorsement of Peter, and his 'elephant in the room' is the Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff's Associations's endorsement of your opponent. How do you think this will affect people's perceptions of you as a candidate, or his?
KL: I would not condone or ask someone what these police unions, especially the Sheriff's Department, have done. That's not something, when I was Chief of Police, that I would ask the men and women of my department to do.
LS: Give me an example.
KL: Well, we never, and I never, have endorsed a candidate for Sheriff or any other political organization. I very seldom put signs in my yard. And when I did it was for both people running for both parties. It's the only way I would go.
For these people to step up and do that, if that doesn't send a message to the voting public that there is a problem there, there is a problem. Once you have lost the confidence of the men and women that are working with you -- Peter tends to make it 'for him' more than 'with you.' I like to say 'with you.' Peter is good at using the 'me factor.' I use the 'we factor,' always. It's not successful unless it's the group. So what it means to me is they've lost confidence in their leader. That's a struggle for anyone.
LS: Do we have effective law enforcement in Tompkins County now?
KL: Yes we do. I will be very proud to lead the men and women of that department. There are some very excellent people both in road patrol and the jail. But we've lost some very good ones, too. Coming from Cayuga Heights and probably having one of the best contracts in the State of New York, we didn't have that issue. Cayuga Heights has always prided themselves on that. That's why we were able to keep people.
But there was a time even in our organization when we didn't keep up with salaries and benefits. I'm the one that started the union for the Cayuga Heights Police Department because that was happening. We ended up getting a very good contract with the help of negotiators. It's a delicate rope we walk, especially today. They negotiated two contracts while I was Chief of Police. I was able to help the village and the Police Benevolent Association. I helped negotiate two contracts, and our first contract was (agreed upon) in two days, and one day for the next.
Why? Because I worked with both entities, and we worked it out.
LS: I know that the County Administrator has asked for more across the board cuts from departments. Do you think the department will be able to continue to be effective with these cuts?
KL: It can be. There is very little flexibility in doing that except equipment and things like that. Peter, along with help from others, obviously has gotten some very good grants and done a good job of that. And he has managed the budget very well. I'm not going to say he hasn't.
But you have to remember there has been no contract for four and a half years. The problem with that is that 90% of your budget is driven by salaries and benefits. So when he says that from '05 to 2010 that he's kept the budget down, I hope and pray that he has, because there have been no raises or benefits given to the men and women of the road patrol.
LS: Are you saying that retroactive pay and benefits could blow expenses out of proportion?
KL: It's going to blow it up, there is no doubt about it. Even so, my committee and I have looked at it: his budget has still gone up 5% each year. That's slightly higher than other county departments. These are difficult times, and I'm not going to say there are some aspects he hasn't done well.
I know I can do the same. I am criticized for leading a small department. There was a letter to the editor today from Barbara Blanchard saying 'Kenny comes from a small department with a small budget that is one tenth of what Peter's is. I'm not insulted by that, but I become insulted because of the other great people who have left the Village of Cayuga Heights and gone to larger, more impressive departments, and have been very, very successful. It's insulting to them, not so much to me.
We've had some very, very successful people: Captain of the New York State Police. My Chief that hired me became the Assistant Director of the FBI. Another became an FBI Agent. Some great people have walked out of there, so please do not think that because we're a small department that we don't have great people come out of there.
Mayor Marcham said 'we take good care of our officers because we want nothing less than the best of the best.' That's what it's been.
Your flexibility (with the budget) comes with your ability to work with the men and women. I've done that. In Cayuga Heights I cut the overtime almost in half. I was there during economic times that were surely not as bad as they are now, but I actually cut the budget. I was not actually in control of the contractual part, but as far as the rest of the budget was concerned I was able to cut that and keep it cut during my tenure.
LS: Community outreach seems to be a big focus of the Sheriff's Department now. If you are elected will that continue to be a focus?
KL: Anybody that knows me knows that I have been truly committed to community and community policing. In Cayuga Heights, probably before they came up with the term 'community policing' -- we were community police officers. In fact we've been described as a high paid security department because of the special things we do for the community.
I spent 17 years of my police career teaching the D.A.R.E. program to fifth graders because of my commitment to young people. I spent 13 years volunteering to work on the Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services board, which I am president of now and have been in the past.
I am one of the first people who started the Cops, Kids, and Toys program thirty-some years ago on Green Street in somebody's garage. I pride myself in my commitment to community. We will continue that.
I am also looking at another program called 'Residential Deputy.' It's something that I want to take a close look at to put into community here in Tompkins County to give a more personal touch with the Sheriff's Department. It will not create overtime or any change in how we do business, but it will enhance our relations with the communities that are out there. They don't have that, because they don't have their own police departments. Lansing, Caroline, all those communities. I'm doing my homework on it.
LS: Does it put deputies into each community?
KL: It does. What you do is look for deputies that live in the communities. They become a 'residential deputy.' What they do is concentrate on that area, especially with the extra little things, the special events, things going on in schools, and things like that. If you have a good working relationship with your officers, which I know I will, you make concessions here and there so a little overtime is created to make this program work. I've had a chance to talk to a relative in another county that has done this. It is very successful.
Another thing I want to do is that I want every township to know that when they have their board meetings, should they need representation from the Sheriff's Department they need only call. My door is always open. Depending on what it is that needs to be addressed, the necessary person will attend that meeting to address the issues.
You have to put that personal touch in. I know a lot of people say you can't do that. You have to have the working relationship with the men and women like I have had over 37 years. We'll be able to do it.
LS: Is there room for improvement at the jail?
KL: I've never run a jail, but neither had the incumbent when he came on 12 years ago. But I do my homework, because I've been in law enforcement, and it's very important to do your homework before you take any steps in any investigation. The jail, as we know, is mandated by the New York State Department of Corrections. Therefore a lot of the things that we're doing are mandated.
I've tried to FOIL information on the jail so I can bring myself up to speed. It has not yet been answered. That's a little concerning to me at this point in time. I have worked with Schuyler County Sheriff Department as a part time Deputy on race track events and things like that. So I'm able to tap into the many resources in my career that I have established.
The jail is run well. There are some questionable things that I believe are happening that may be contributing to making us look a little better because we don't have the board-outs, but I am concerned that we may be putting inmates and staff at a little more risk. Again, I need to investigate that more.
But the mandates come from the Department of Corrections, so we have to do that. Right now the Sheriff's Department has been able to get the variances so they can double bunk if people volunteer to do that.
I was asked what I would think about building a jail with another county, maybe Cortland. I never thought of that, but I surely would support that. If the necessary information was developed that it would save taxpayers money and work for both counties I would surely entertain that.
LS: Do you want to say more about your candidacy or anything we haven't covered?
KL: I guess what I want voters to know about me especially is that what you see is what you get. I am who I am. I have 37 years of law enforcement experience to show the community, and doing what's right.
I'm proud to say 37 years. I didn't just work at Cayuga Heights. I started out as a young man out of college at Cortland State University on a special community service unit that I and two other graduates started. We were in the dorms with the men and women of our age, teaching and protecting, and doing special events. I left and came to Cayuga Heights in 1974. During most of my career, 20-some years of my career as a law enforcement official, I also worked with another police department part time. I worked for the Dryden Police Department from 1975 to 1977. From 1977 to 1998 when I took over as Chief of Police (in Cayuga Heights) I worked for the Trumansburg Police Department. I was promoted to Sargent there in 1977. I had only been a police officer for four years and I was promoted to Sergeant, and was responsible for supervising people.
There is nothing on my record in any of the places I've worked of any wrongdoing, or any personnel complaints. Not many people can say that. I'm proud of that, that I've been able to treat people correctly. That's what you'll get, an open and transparent person. I am a community servant. Police officers are public servants. This job is not a hobby and it should not be self-serving. That's the position I take and this is what they're going to get: me.