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Candidates for Onondaga County Sheriff Bring Decades of Experience

The two candidates on the ballot for Onondaga County Sheriff bring plenty of experience but from different backgrounds. 

Incumbent republican Gene Conway hopes he’s earned the trust of residents for a second term after a 40 year career in county and town law enforcement. 

“I consider the office of Sheriff to be a privilege. I still have tremendous passion for law enforcement. I have a sincere desire to help our community be safe.”

He and the department have been focused on the daunting task of assuming management of Jamesville prison, which voters approved a year ago.  He would like to stay on and continue the process.

“Over the last 10 months, we certainly have been understanding the operation. We have already started to identify some areas that we think we can be more efficient in without people losing their jobs. It’s not about that at all.”

Conway says he’s also looking at centralizing different sheriff’s facilities, and wants to expedite the consolidation of the 911 center and emergency management in an effort to save taxpayer money.  He says fiscal responsibility is a key priority and he’s proud the department has come in under budget for his entire first term.  But his opponent paints a picture of wasted taxpayer money and mismanagement of the justice center.  Democrat Mike Montes points to a state report in February identifying the jail as one of the five most problematic in the state. Conway disagreed with the findings of overcrowding and staffing.  He says they sought and received accreditation from the American correctional association.

“It’s a series of standards, 300 of them, that you must adhere to every single day of your operation. And before you can have auditors come in to assess, you have to make sure that you have your house in order. This includes medical cleanliness and food service.”

But Montes says that the accreditation was not meaningful.

“I know the current sheriff says he doesn’t agree with the report and he talks about accreditation. Well, the accreditation really was about accreditation from the sheriff’s association, not from the regulatory body that oversees this. Which is the commission on corrections. So really, you have to go in and take their findings and correct the deficiencies so we meet or exceed state standards.”

Montes recently retired after 27 years in federal law enforcement, and says he’ll bring a different perspective to the department. 

“I’ve not worked in the Onondaga County Sheriff’s office, but I’ve worked all over the country and all over the world. I’ve been deployed to Iraq and Korea, I’ve served in headquarters in Washington D.C. I was the 9/11 liaison from the department of defense, so I have a lot of background experience and can see the big picture on things.”

He’s also claimed, without proof, that Conway has done little to battle the opioid epidemic.  In fact, Conway says he met with addiction and treatment specialists before starting a voluntary program where inmates can be injected with Vivitrol.

“The injection can last for up to 30 days. It’s not a drug, but it does curb any cravings. So we try to have that administered right before their release from jail so that they have the best opportunity when they leave not to reoffend, not to reuse.”

Conway says 30 percent of inmates have an addiction problem.  If re-elected, he says he’ll continue the youth summer police academy, and explore the idea of civilianizing more positions like evidence technicians.  

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at