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Board votes to demote Sgt. Ames amidst controversy

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POTSDAM — The Potsdam village board voted unanimously to recommend the demotion of police Sgt. Michael Ames in response to controversy surrounding Mr. Ames’s failure to report a hit-and-run accident.

Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis said that “strong and decisive” action was needed to meet the high standards to which the police department is held.

The Board of Trustees met in executive session for less than 15 minutes Monday evening to discuss the matter. Upon returning, the board put the recommendation to a vote.

If the village Police Department heeds the board’s recommendation, Mr. Ames will be demoted to the rank of patrol officer. His pay will be reduced to what he had received before being promoted to sergeant.

“We felt that this was a serious incident of behavior unbecoming an officer,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

On Halloween 2010, Mr. Ames backed into a car and drove away without reporting it. He did not report the incident until this past March.

Mr. Yurgartis recently called for an investigation of the Police Department’s handling of the matter. Mr. Ames was disciplined internally, according to Police Chief Kevin E. Bates. The mayor and village board were unaware of the incident until May, after receiving a complaint from a village resident.

Mr. Yurgartis also announced a partnership with state police to improve the Potsdam Police Department’s internal affairs policies to prevent future problems.

In other business related to the Police Department, the board voted to begin the process of filling a vacant position on the force, while promoting another officer to the rank of sergeant.

“I think we as a community need to weigh the cost of a police force compared to the benefits we receive,” Mr. Yurgartis said. The board unanimously agreed to request a list of eligible candidates from the St. Lawrence County personnel office.

The board previously had tabled the decision to hire a new officer, citing the controversy surrounding Mr. Ames as a distraction to the process.

The decision to begin the search for an officer to promote to sergeant drew more debate. Some board members worried that the promotion would lead to less manpower patrolling the village.

Trustee Eleanor F. Hopke made a motion to table the decision to allow for more time for deliberation, but the motion was not seconded.

The measure passed 3-2.

“I just wanted more time to make a decision,” Ms. Hopke said after voting against the resolution.

Tempers flared during the meeting in response to comments made by Trustee Ruth F. Garner.

Ms. Garner repeatedly argued that the Police Department was short-staffed, and that more needed to be done to fill vacant positions.

After Mr. Yurgartis tried to move to a new subject, Ms. Garner fired back: “I am not one of your students.”

This prompted a member of the public in attendance to call Ms. Garner “rude.”

“I am rude,” Ms. Garner replied. “You have to be rude to get anything done in this position.”

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