A first shot was fired in the race for Erie County sheriff Monday, when Sheriff Timothy B. Howard was accused of "mismanagement" of the department and "deplorable" conditions at the downtown Holding Center.
Howard's challenger, Charles T. Fieramusca, the Democratic and Independence candidate, seized on a Sunday story in The Buffalo News that cited accounts of overcrowded conditions at the Holding Center, overworked guards and a lack of basic supplies due to county budget cuts.
While jail isn't meant to be lavish, conditions need to be humane, safe and sanitary, or else Erie County is exposed to liabilities, Fieramusca said.
"If these problems of providing feminine hygiene, toilet paper and basic medicines and medical treatment to prisoners are really due to the 2005 budget situation, Mr. Howard should have been doing everything he can to solve the problem," Fieramusca said. "Instead, he blames everyone else for his mismanagement."
Fieramusca, former chief of the Buffalo Police Department's Homicide and Narcotics units, also criticized pay increases totaling $37,000 for three of Howard's recent appointees.
"Mr. Howard should have used that money to rehire some of the laid-off guards in the Holding Center or rehire civilian staff instead of giving his political appointees . . . raises while the county is in fiscal crisis," he said.
Fieramusca called the afternoon news conference in front of the Holding Center. Minutes after he left, Howard emerged to defend himself against the accusations.
Howard, who was undersheriff for eight years before succeeding Patrick M. Gallivan in June, said the department continues to investigate complaints by detainees but denied the conditions were inhumane.
"If the conditions deteriorated to the point that they were inhumane, we would know that," the sheriff said.
As for the raises, Howard said a reshuffling in his administration bumped a few to upper-level jobs with higher pay. Howard said he had already lost respect for Fieramusca.
"This is nothing more than political posturing," Howard said.