Written by Larry Limpf
Saturday, 25 October 2008 19:22
Whether incumbent Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn retains his position as the county’s “top cop” or he is unseated by his challenger, Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer, the next sheriff may well see plans for changes to the county jail facility come off the drawing board.
Voters will decide Nov. 4 which of the two men they want to head the county sheriff’s department, which is responsible for operating the facility built to house less than 150 inmates but often has a population of almost 170.
The county commissioners earlier this year gave Sheriff Wasylyshyn the green light for preparing an analysis of the nearly 20-year-old facility that will include recommendations for expansion and renovation, according to Andrew Kalmar, county administrator.
Those plans, Sheriff Wasylyshyn said recently, are scheduled to be completed early next year.
Chief Hummer, a former deputy in the sheriff’s department, says that’s not a moment too soon.
“Overcrowding and the need for expansion has been an issue for seven or eight years,” he said. “The next sheriff should communicate that it’s a problem with the commissioners and with the taxpayers.”
Sheriff Wasylyshyn said the jail, which is staffed by about 50 deputies, is being utilized the best it can under less than ideal circumstances.
“We have been very careful to house inmates in other county jails only when it is absolutely necessary without compromising safety or our perfect score on our accreditation. We have reduced the costs of housing inmates in other county jails by $350,000 a year,” he said, adding the Wood County jail is one of only seven of 90 in the state accredited by the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention.
But Chief Hummer says the overcrowding leaves the county vulnerable to legal problems that could erase any cost savings.
“Having people sleeping on cots in a non-residential area of the facility such as the gym is not a long-term solution. A deputy or an inmate could be hurt and then you’re opening yourself up to liability. On paper it may look fiscally sound but it just takes one incident to wipe out all those money savings,” he said.
Preliminary cost estimates for renovating the facility were prepared when former Sheriff John Kohl was in office and Hummer was chief deputy. When the proposal didn’t receive support from the county commissioners, the department set up contracts for housing sentenced prisoners in other counties – at the time about $45 a day, according to Chief Hummer.
The building, he said, was constructed so that it could be expanded on its present site.
Chief Hummer and Sheriff Wasylyshyn, who’ve known each other since childhood, were ushers in each other’s weddings, graduated a year apart from Rossford High School, and have both worked as police officers in the City of Perrysburg and Perrysburg Township.
Sheriff Wasylyshyn defeated then incumbent John Kohl by 71 votes – 5,634 to 5,563 – in the March, 2004 Republican primary election. He was unopposed in the November general election.
Chief Hummer is running as an independent. If elected, he said he would bring a similar management style to the sheriff’s office that he has as chief in Lake Township by delegating authority and emphasize well-defined responsibilities for the staff – the command officers in particular - and giving them the means to meet those responsibilities.
“I know the most important people in the sheriff’s office aren’t the sheriff,” he said. “It’s the deputies, the cooks, clerical workers, dispatchers, and others. They’re doing the job day in and day out. Sheriffs come and go but these people are there for their careers.”
Sheriff Wasylyshyn admits to being more of a “hands on” administrator.
“I answer my own phone, open my own mail, and check my emails regularly. All
purchases go across my desk and I question each one to see if we really need what is requested and whether we can buy it somewhere else for less,” he said. That scrutiny of the department’s expenses, the sheriff said, has resulted in cost savings of about $630,000.
A department detective and drug enforcement deputy have been reassigned from working with the Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation – on cases that would at times take them out of the county – to work more in Wood County. The sheriff said the change has resulted in more local crimes being solved.
“Our drug arrests have doubled in the last three years,” he said. “Many of our crimes like home burglaries and break-ins are drug related.”
Sheriff Wasylyshyn said he has also aggressively pursued state grants to have more deputies on road patrol.
Chief Hummer, however, said he feels there are still gaps in patrol coverage.
“I will go in there and look at every facet of the operations,” he said. “We need to focus on getting more deputies out there on the road. High visibility can be a deterrent.”
The two men also differ on the use of the sheriff’s vehicle – a fully marked Ford Excursion equipped with a V-10 engine that was purchased when Sheriff Kohl was in office to replace a 1988 Chevrolet Suburban.
Equipped with a radio system that allows him to communicate with first responders in Wood and neighboring counties, Sheriff Wasylyshyn uses the Excursion extensively, including travel out of the county, and has stopped to assist deputies on road patrol with his children in the vehicle.
“I am always on duty,” he said. “As the elected sheriff my status is always the same. While traveling in the county, if there is a vehicle that is broken down I stop and assist. I also conduct traffic stops when I observe violations. It is not the vehicle I would have chosen. My next vehicle will be much more fuel-efficient.”
Chief Hummer said, if elected, he would use the Excursion only on official business and rely on a portable radio and cell phone in his personal vehicle to stay in contact with other emergency personnel.
“Fiscal responsibility begins at the top and the sheriff should lead by example,” he said.