Former Representative Perry’s Appointment As Special Sheriff Draws Criticism
By: Mary Stanley
After losing his bid for Congress last November, former representative Jeffrey D. Perry has landed on his feet, securing the position of special sheriff in the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department.
“I hired a guy who is eminently qualified. This job is part public safety and part political. I needed someone with a background in law enforcement, politics, and a legal background. Jeff has all of the qualifications,” said Sheriff James M. Cummings.
But not everyone is praising the sheriff’s decision to appoint his longtime political ally to the job.
Barnstable County Commissioner Mary (Pat) Flynn is surprised that the position was filled without ever being posted or advertised. As a human resources director in both the public and private sectors, she said it was always part of the process to post an open position.
“I was a little surprised that it was not advertised or posted. Advertising for an open position allows you to see what quality people are out there and to get the most qualified people for the job,” Ms. Flynn said.
Sheriff Cummings said he is not required by law to advertise for this second-in-command job. Mr. Perry was the only applicant. “I don’t think any sheriff would post for a special sheriff position or hire someone they didn’t know. You need someone you have confidence in and can trust,” said Sheriff Cummings.
Some, however, are saying that it appears Sheriff Cummings was taking care of a friend who needed a job.
“I am struck by the hypocrisy of it. Shame on Cummings for giving this patronage position to Perry and shame on Jeff for accepting it,” said Glenn S. Paré, a Sandwich Finance Committee member who challenged Mr. Perry for his seat as representative of Fifth Barnstable District in 2008. “When he was a state representative, he always screamed against patronage in government. This is nothing more than a patronage job, filling a post that was vacant for two years,” said Louis F. Cerrone, vice chairman of the Democratic Town Committee in Sandwich.
Mr. Perry responded to the accusations saying, “I railed against political appointments where the person was not qualified to do the job or the job was created for a friend or family member. I’ll match my qualifications, my 20 years of experience in law enforcement and with the Legislature and my law degree against any special sheriff in the state.”
Sheriff Cummings pointed out that the position was not created for Mr. Perry. He explained that the special sheriff position is required by the state, a job where the primary role is to fill in for the sheriff, should he become incapacitated.
Sheriff Cummings said two years ago the post was filled by an individual who left on disability. That individual, he said, was earning $108,000. Although he did not immediately fill the vacancy, to satisfy state requirements, he did name retired Special Sheriff Philip Nugnes as the backup, but Mr. Nugnes did not receive a salary. Filling this job with a permanent full-time person, he said, was a priority.
Sheriff Cummings said he will cover Mr. Perry’s $110,000 annual salary by not replacing newly elected State Representative David Vieira, who held the position of director of intergovernmental relations, which carried a $54,000 annual salary. The balance will be covered by not filling other positions in the sheriff’s department.
Sheriff Cummings said he first approached Mr. Perry about taking this position a year ago, just after the representative announced that he would not seek reelection. Mr. Perry declined the offer at that time, choosing instead to run for Congress. But then, after William Keating narrowly beat out Mr. Perry for that seat, Sheriff Cummings approached Mr. Perry again.
“We talked about it, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine my legal background, education, experience in politics, and military service,” Mr. Perry said.
When Mr. Perry is not filling in for Sheriff Cummings, he will be the second-in-command. Sheriff Cummings said he will be relying heavily on Mr. Perry, especially with respect to the department’s budget.
“My hope is that Jeff’s background, experience in the Legislature, and contacts on Beacon Hill can help me get the necessary funding,” Sheriff Cummings said.
But it is precisely Mr. Perry’s background that concerns critics of the appointment. During Mr. Perry’s Congressional campaign, his opponent raised the issue of an illegal strip search that occurred in 1991, when Mr. Perry was a sergeant with the Wareham Police Department. According to the victim, who was 14 years old at the time of the incident, Mr. Perry was standing nearby while his subordinate, Police Officer Scott Flanagan, assaulted her. Although Mr. Flanagan, who admitted to the crime, was convicted in 1993, Mr. Perry was never charged or disciplined in the incident.
Just after Officer Flanagan was indicted, Mr. Perry resigned from the police department. Anticipating the questions that this issue would raise, Sheriff Cummings said he intentionally chose not to have Mr. Perry’s background check conducted internally or through the state police, as is the standard practice. Instead, he hired former FBI agent Robert Schlabach to conduct a full investigation of the incident and a background check, before officially giving Mr. Perry his new job.
Although Mr. Cummings was satisfied with the findings in Mr. Schlabach’s report, Mr. Cerrone questions the integrity of that investigation. “The agent came to the conclusion that Jeff Perry did not stand by while this victim was assaulted. I would love to know what the agent’s background is. He is saying that Perry did not do what the victim alleges he did. Either he did not talk to the victim or he did speak to her and chose not to believe her,” said Mr. Cerrone. “If you feel like you have to hire a special agent to conduct a background check because of an incident, that should be enough of a red flag. In a way, I feel sorry for Jeff. It just seems that his actions and decision-making consistently fail to meet those ‘conservative’ values and standards he so ardently preaches about,” said Mr. Paré.
Despite the criticisms, Mr. Perry defended his decision to accept his new job. “I will be working to enhance the opportunities at the sheriff’s department. If I didn’t feel I was qualified or could add to this already great department, I wouldn’t have taken the job,” Mr. Perry said.
But Mr. Cerrone is not convinced that filling this post was based on professional experience or qualifications. “The Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department is a place of refuge for Republicans on the Cape. Sheriff Cummings has provided jobs for a lot of people,” Mr. Cerrone said.
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