ELIZABETHTOWN - Two candidates will be on the ballot this November for the position of Essex County Sheriff, the most heavily contested county-wide election this season.
Michael "Ike" Tyler of Westport, who narrowly lost to the late Sheriff Henry Hommes in last year's election, returns to face Elizabethtown resident Richard Cutting, who was appointed acting Sheriff following Hommes' death.
"I always knew I was going to run for sheriff again," said Tyler. "I just didn't know it would be this soon."
A retired state corrections officer with more than 25 years experience, Tyler holds a degree in Business Administration and has served as a member of the Westport Town Board for the past 15 years.
Tyler argued he could use that experience to do more with less as Sheriff, utilizing staff and other resources more efficiently for a leaner budget.
"I've looked at the budget, and I think it's time the Sheriff's department is run like a business," Tyler said.
One major area he'd look to trim is the number of supervisory staff in the department, claiming there are too many of the highly-paid positions. Tyler also said he would want to re-evaluate the need for all the vehicles the department uses.
Altogether, Tyler claims he could trim between $200,000 and $300,000 from the Sheriff's department budget, depending on the number of retirements.
"I'd start better training the staff," Tyler added. "From what I understand, they need more training."
Training programs, such as those offered by the New York State Crisis Negotiation Team, Tyler said, would allow guards and deputies to be better equipped to handle some of the more challenging situations that come with housing federal inmates at the jail, thereby improving staff morale.
Also, he would make sure to institute an alcohol and substance abuse program for inmates to further reduce the recidivism rate.
"I'd also want to create inmate work crews," Tyler said. "Other counties do it, so we should be able to do that."
Tyler also said he would do a better job managing deputy road patrols by actively communicating with local municipalities about where patrols are needed.
Overall, Tyler said his fresh approach to the post would lead to a more efficient and effective Sheriff's department.
"It won't be business as usual if I'm elected Sheriff; that's for sure."
Tyler may have a big hill to climb, however, as he attempts to win the position from Cutting, who has been a member of the Essex County Sheriff's Department since 1977. Cutting steadily climbed through the ranks to become jail administrator and was chosen as Undersheriff in 2008.
"I've been here 33 years; 31 of it in the old jail," said Cutting. "We have this new facility here that I had an integral part in designing and building. I feel I'm fairly young at 55 years old, and I want to be here to see that things keep running the way they have been."
Essex County Republican committee members gave overwhelming support to Cutting at their Sept. 15 meeting and will be on the Republican line of November's ballot.
One of the things Cutting is most proud of, he said, is the substantial revenue the department has been able to generate by housing federal and out-of-county inmates at the new jail.
"We built this jail with the needs of Essex County in the next 30 years in mind," Cutting said, noting how extra cells are being used in the more immediate future to generate $1.3 million for the county in 2009 with expectations to exceed that in 2010.
"I'd like to see the Sheriff's office be a vital resource for Essex County," Cutting said, noting the many services offered, including D.A.R.E., child seat checks and identification cards, and proactive enforcement of the sex offender registry and sales of alcohol to minors.
Cutting said his campaign thus far has been focused on getting better name recognition while dispelling some of the unfounded rumors surrounding both him and the department he now manages outright.
One such rumor, he said, is that he plans to retire in the near future.
"If my intent was to retire, I would have taken the three-year retirement incentive," he said. "If I'm running, I'm running for the full four-year term."
He also takes issue with Tyler's suggestion that morale needs to improve at the new jail.
"The rumor is that the morale is horrible," said Cutting, "and my answer is, 'Go and talk to one of the officers.'"
Cutting said the department holds regular meetings with both supervisory staff and corrections officers to address various issues and makes those conversations available within the department.
"I have six supervisory staff for four shifts, which is the minimum recommended by the state," said Cutting, who said the department already operates with a fiscally responsible budget.
"I'm looking forward to the challenges of the office of Sheriff," said Cutting. "I'm going to do the best job I possibly can to bring honor and respect to the office of Sheriff and the Essex County Sheriff's Office."