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Published: Friday, 1/5/2001

New sheriff in Erie Co. faces dearth of jail space

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SANDUSKY - As Erie County's first new sheriff in 20 years, Terry Lyons says he's inheriting a department that's in good shape, but he has identified some areas he'd like to improve.

Sheriff Lyons, 47, who took over Monday from retiring Sheriff John Magnuson, wants to beef up staffing and solve chronic crowding at the county jail - issues that he said aren't exclusive to Erie County.

“It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, if you go by any sheriff's office, they need more jail space, they need more personnel, and they need more help with technology,” the new sheriff said.

A 16-year department employee, Sheriff Lyons spent the last 12 years as administrator of the county jail before defeating Curt Muehling, commander of the Erie County drug task force, in the November election.

The sheriff, who is paid $59,162 a year, said he plans to run the department with a “team concept.”

“Myself alone, I'm not going to be able to effect any significant changes or make any capital improvements,” Sheriff Lyons said.

“I feel very fortunate in that regard, that the staff has been very, very receptive, and so have the elected officials. And I expect that to continue.”

Sandusky police Chief Robert Runner said Sheriff Lyons is known for seeking input from other people.

“Terry's always been receptive to hearing suggestions and comments from outside sources,” Chief Runner said.

“We were kind of fortunate in the election for sheriff this year, in that we had two very good candidates for sheriff, and either one would have done a good job.”

Retired Sheriff Magnuson, who supported his former assistant's run for office, said Sheriff Lyons is ready for his duties. “I'd known since 1996 that I wasn't going to run again, so I tried to give Terry a lot of responsibility over the last few years, so that he is thoroughly prepared to be a good sheriff,” Mr. Magnuson said.

“I think he'll be a good boss.”

Sheriff Lyons, who takes over a department with 76 employees and an annual budget of about $6 million, said he has asked the Erie County commissioners to add two road deputies and two corrections officers, at an estimated annual cost of $300,000.

Despite increasing demand for services, department staffing hasn't kept up, he said.

He also proposes that the county establish a 75-bed facility to house misdemeanor offenders, either by expanding the jail or renovating a building elsewhere, at an estimated cost of $4 million.

The sheriff said the jail, built in 1990, typically has at least 20 prisoners above its official capacity of 90, plus others who are sent to neighboring counties.

Yesterday, for instance, Erie County had 10 prisoners at Ottawa County's misdemeanor facility and 10 at the Huron County jail, he said.

As jail administrator in the late 1980s, Sheriff Lyons helped plan the facility, but he says unforeseen changes in state criminal codes have boosted the need for beds.

Domestic violence penalties have been stiffened, and county jails have been forced to house low-level felons who previously would have been sent to state prisons, he said.

“To be able to do my job, I need appropriate jail space to house prisoners,” he said.

Nancy McKeen, president of the county commissioners, said she agrees with Sheriff Lyons. Grant money must be obtained to be able to afford the project, she said.

“I'm looking forward to working with him,” she said.

Ms. McKeen said Sheriff Lyons is a firm but fair leader.

“He's a common-sense guy - not to say we haven't had differences of opinion, but always in a friendly way,” she said. “Terry will make a good sheriff.”

Huron police Chief Randy Glovinsky, who has known Sheriff Lyons for more than 20 years, said he works well with others. “He is an intelligent person.

``I've never seen him get mad. He seems to be very diplomatic. And I know he's a hard worker.”



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