WESTPORT - A correction officer from Westport has announced plans to challenge the re-election bid of Essex County Sheriff Henry Hommes.
Michael "Ike" Tyler, a 25-year veteran of the state Department of Correctional Services, said running the Essex County Jail is the primary responsibility of the sheriff.
"I've got the knowledge and experience to do that effectively and efficiently," he said. "And, I want to give back to the people of this county. That's why I'm running."
Meanwhile, three-term incumbent Henry Hommes said his record managing the 60 county correction officers and deputy sheriffs speaks for itself.
"I've worked hard to provide the best service with the lowest possible cost to the county taxpayer," Hommes said.
Tyler works at the Moriah Shock Incarceration Camp and has served as a councilman for the town of Westport for 13 years. He also spent time as a trustee for the village of Westport before it was dissolved in the early 1990s.
Hommes is a retired state trooper and BCI investigator, with 21 years in law enforcement, most of which was spent assigned to the Westport barracks.
Tyler said he would bring a compassionate, people-first approach to the job, if elected.
"I treat people how I would like to be treated," he said. "That's how I approach life. If I were sheriff, I would treat the employees and the constituents of the county like I would want to be treated."
Tyler said morale at the new jail is low and safety is a big concern for the correction officers. Several weeks ago, a fight broke out at the jail, injuring several employees.
"I've talked to quite a few people who work out there," Tyler said. "They're concerned about their welfare and I'm concerned about their welfare. I think the safety of the men and women that work there would be my main concern."
As sheriff, Tyler said he would practice fiscal responsibility, citing his experience as a Westport town councilman and trustee. He pointed to the state Department of Correctional Services as a model of working with limited resources.
"They're trying to get the best bang for their buck," Tyler said. "Money is tight, and taxpayers can't afford to see higher costs."
But, Hommes said he not only oversaw the construction of Essex County's new $34 million, 120-bed county jail, but is now working to recoup the investment through housing federal inmates.
"We are trying to lighten the burden on the county taxpayer," he said.
The Essex County Republican Committee meets Tuesday, March 31, and is expected to endorse candidates for sheriff and district attorney. So far, no other candidates have been declared in the sheriff's race.
Tyler said he hasn't decided whether he'll force a primary vote if doesn't' get GOP backing.
"I'll have to wait and see," he said. "I'll make my move after the committee's made its move."
Hommes said he announced his intent to run for a fourth four-year term in February. Both men are Republicans and could face one another in a primary vote this September.