Sheriff says no problems with flying Trump campaign flag on county boat

In this above Sunday, Aug. 2. photo, one of several provided to The Palladium-Times, a President Donald Trump campaign flag flies on a watercraft operated on Oneida Lake by the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office .

UPDATE 5:53 p.m.

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup issued a statement Monday afternoon saying he had "addressed the issue" with Hilton today and was "confident that the activity of this sort on county time and using county-owned equipment will not be repeated."

"I have spoken to the sheriff and expressed our position about our flag policy and our desire to not see this type of display in the future from his office (or any other) on taxpayer time or taxpayer equipment," Weatherup, R-Hastings, said. "I am confident that we will not see this type of action in the future."

The original story appears below:

OSWEGO — Oswego County Sheriff Don Hilton says the flying of a President Donald Trump campaign flag on a county marine patrol unit this weekend was to “show recognition” for Trump’s support of law enforcement, despite the action appearing to violate local and federal campaign and public service protocols.

In pictures widely circulated on social media and provided by multiple individuals to The Palladium-Times, Hilton is shown on board a boat marked “Oswego County Sheriff” along with several other uniformed individuals during a Sunday flotilla on Oneida Lake. Prominently displayed on the boat is a flag resembling the American flag, but also bearing Trump’s face and campaign slogan “Making America Great Again.” Oswego County officials did not, when asked, deny that it was indeed Hilton and members of his staff in the photographs.

In a Monday press release, Hilton’s office addressed the situation saying that the “Oswego County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol Unit are routinely present at known gatherings on Oneida Lake, Lake Ontario and other bodies of water within our jurisdiction to ensure the ability for a swift response to any emergencies and to preserve the safety for all who attended these events.”

The Sunday, Aug. 2 “Flotilla in Support of President Trump,” the sheriff’s office said, was one such event.

“The flag was flown to show support of the citizens who were attending this event and to show recognition to the ‘President of the United States’ for his constant support of law enforcement,” the statement concludes.

Trump’s policies aside, the use of a taxpayer-funded vehicle operated by taxpayer-funded employees to brandish public support for one side in a political election has raised eyebrows. While support for the president of the United States can be a non-partisan effort, the use of Trump’s signature, trademarked promise to continue “Making America Great Again” is a clear campaign sentiment, not a governmental one.

“Oswego County has a policy that says we’re a unit of the American government, so the American flag is the only one that can be flown on county property,” Oswego County Administrator Phil Church told the Pall-Times Monday. “We prohibit the display of any type of political statement.”

Church declined to speculate as to what, if any, consequences Hilton could face for violating that prohibition.

The office of the county administrator last year in June issued a memo to all Oswego County employees and officials titled “Political campaign activity prohibited at work,” which Church says states plainly the county’s policy and disposition towards political affairs while on the job.

“We must assure our citizens that we provide public services to them free of improper political influence, and that public funds, time and resources are not used for partisan political purposes.”

When questioned as to the potential illegality of Hilton’s actions, Church also declined to speculate.

New York Civil Service Law S.107.1 reads: “no person in (civil service) shall use his official authority or influences to coerce the political action of any person or body.” A direct inquiry to county officials as to whether Hilton’s actions violate this statute was not returned.

The Oswego County Sheriff’s Office also receives funding from the federal government for a variety of initiatives including the county’s recent high intensity drug trafficking area (HIDTA) designation. Federal funds are prohibited from being used for political activities under the Hatch Act. It is unclear if this law would apply in this case.

The Palladium-Times has submitted a series of specific questions and multiple requests for interviews with leaders of Oswego County government and Sheriff Don Hilton. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

While county officials were reluctant to address the issue, local Democrats had no such qualms.

“This is a slap in the face to taxpayers,” said County Legislator and Minority Leader Tom Drumm, D-Oswego. “There needs to be accountability here. This was a mistake, a big mistake, and for (Hilton’s) statement to double down on something that’s widely prohibited... it’s motivated me to speak out.”

Drumm said he hopes Hilton “clarifies” his position, and assures citizens “it is not going to happen again.”

“This shouldn’t be a complicated issue,” Drumm said. “The boat they’re on, flying that flag, is a taxpayer boat. There’s just not a place legally and from a basic governmental standpoint.”

Tracy DeCann of Oswego served as the Oswego County VFW Commander from 2013-2014, and said Monday she was “outraged” by the photos.

“Putting this flag on county property is a tragic statement of the face and mindset of our sheriff’s department,” DeCann said. “You want to put it in your yard, whatever. But on county property saying that is justified?”

DeCann added that she thought Hilton “owed the people of Oswego County an apology.”

The kerfuffle even attracted the attention of some bigger CNY political names.

“I’m appalled to see the Oswego Sheriff’s department, a government agency, fly a desecrated American flag on government property,” Dana Balter, Democrat for Congress told The Palladium-Times. “This decision is unacceptable and is not at all a proper way a 'to show support' or ‘recognition.’ The incident should be investigated immediately and those responsible must be held accountable.”

(14) comments

ariel

11/3/2020 will be the day Joe Biden is elected as the next President of the United States of America and he will assume the duties on 1/21/21. No whining. What's done is done, and tRUMP is overdone. If he refuses to leave, then it's time to re-inflate those beautiful "baby tRUMP wearing a diaper" balloons. Beautiful balloons. The most beautiful ever balloons. The beautiful-ist balloons ever designed. Designed and flown in England for when it visited there.

ariel

Lock them up.

ariel

(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

Especially of a RUMP. DESECRATION BY THE SHERIFF. #HILTONMUSTGO; #NOTMYSHERIFF; #NOTAREALSHERIFF; #FAUXSHERIFF

ariel

"I am confident that we will not see this type of action in the future." #HILTONMUSTGO

socialrevolution

American policing is an institutionally-racist partisan right-wing institution ... hence the need for radical transformation. The police personnel responsible for this fascistic display should be fired, pure and simple, along with their superiors.

ariel

Absolutely correct, as evidenced by their haircuts, tattoos, behaviors, and statements. #HILTONMUSTGO or as tRUMP would say "Send him back."

Solurius

So, the Oswego County Sheriff Department is now the personal paramilitary unit of the corrupt Donald J. Trump administration? Oh, I feel SO much safer now, knowing that, as a Democrat, I now have to be looking over my shoulder for every Sheriff's car, boat, bicycle, or whatever. Taking my tax dollars to promote a corrupt, racist, cowardly pedophile doesn't sit well with me. Desecrating the flag I served my country under is the same as flying the flag of traitors, the Confederate battle flag. Yes, that's what Trump stands for and if you are a Trump supporter then you stand for the same values. Shame on you, Mr. Oswego County Sheriff. May I suggest that you resign in disgrace, just as I wish your president would do.

marmar13

how many officers does it take to pilot the boat? What did this "escort" cost the county taxpayers? and remember it is a violation of state law for union members to do any political activity during work hours with work-related resources.

TomDaarga

Somebody might want to look into those deputies time sheets? Heck of a way to be spending citizen tax dollars!

DrWright

I am sorry,but this is blatantly illegal. The Oswego police force aligns itself publicly with the fascistic leanings of Trump. They have rejected their legal duty to protect ALL citizens. Now that I have been informed my life would be endangered were I to travel in Oswego County, I will never step foot there again.

Tracy A. DeCann

The blatant disregard of the law by our elected officials of Oswego County should be a wake-up call to everyone. Sheriff Hilton needs to be voted out if he cannot do his job responsibly and with impartiality.

ariel

If thar flag was flown in Washington, DC, the perp (Hilton in this case) would face up to a year in jail:

"Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both."

#lockhimup

ariel

Out of control rogue sheriff receives "Well Done" by County Chairman. I contacted The Action Network. We're going National with this one!!!

ariel

"This is Republican Territory!"..........my sympathies......Oswego County leads the state......in drunk driving death risk.[sad]

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