ELIZABETHTOWN - Who is the Essex County sheriff?
That question was posed several times as Michael "Ike" Tyler and Robert Kirby debated at Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School Oct. 22.
Tyler and Kirby are independent candidates for sheriff in the Nov. 3 election. Incumbent Republican Henry Hommes declined to take part in the face off.
The debate was sponsored by Denton Publications. Candidates were questioned by a panel of local journalists.
"I've knocked on over 2,000 doors and have been asked over-and-over 'Who is the sheriff?'" Tyler said. "I can guarantee one thing, if I'm elected you'll know who the sheriff is. I believe the sheriff should be out there talking to his constituents."
Kirby said he has been asked the same question.
"It's true, many people don't know who their sheriff is," he said. "We need a sheriff who will open a dialogue, develop communication with each community in the county. We don't have that now."
Much of the debate focused on the Essex County jail. Both candidates agreed the 120-cell jail is too large for the county and shouldn't have been built.
"It's there, though," Tyler said. "Now it's a matter of running the jail safely and efficiently."
Tyler, who is a retired corrections officer with 25 years experience, said he has the training and background to run the facility.
Kirby noted the sheriff department's budget has risen from $3.3 million in 2006 to $4.6 million this year. Much of that increase comes from the jail, he said.
The county now has a three-year contract with the federal government to house federal inmates at $98 a day, Kirby explained. He said he would re-negotiate that deal to $120-$132 a day.
Tyler expressed doubts the federal government would agree to such a deal, noting the county is dependent on the income generated by the federal prisoners.