Livingston County Undersheriff James Szczesniak, left, and Sheriff's Department Investigator Tom Dougherty, right, have declared their candidacies for county sheriff. Current Sheriff John M. York said Tuesday he will retire from the office this year.
Undersheriff, investigator are candidates for county’s top law enforcer job
The pending retirement of Sheriff John M. York means that come January 1, 2014, there will be a new sheriff in Livingston County.
Two candidates have declared their intent to seek the office, with Livingston County Undersheriff James Szczesniak announcing his candidacy on Tuesday afternoon.
Sheriff’s Department Investigator Tom Dougherty had previously announced his candidacy in December.
Szczesniak, who was appointed undersheriff in 2010, will be seeking elected office for the first time.
“I started my career here and while I may have had opportunities (to leave) early, I enjoy working in the community where I grew up,” Szczesniak, 46, a graduate of Geneseo Central School, told The Livingston County News.
Szczesniak has spent 28 years with the department, beginning as a part-time corrections officer in 1985 while still a student at Monroe Community College. The following year, after graduating from MCC with a criminal justice-political science degree, he became a deputy sheriff in the corrections division. He has since served at every level of the department, including patrol deputy and investigator, and later oversaw the patrol division and the criminal investigation division.
“I’ve been able to see the whole aspect of the sheriff’s department from the undersheriff position and see how all the divisions come together,” Szczesniak said. “In 28 years I’ve never done the same thing twice. You’re always learning in this job. You are part of the highs and lows of people’s lives as they try and deal with life.”
In his campaign, Szczesniak said he plans to focus on his experience, dedication and integrity.
“What I want to tell you is what I will do for the community,” said Szczesniak, who grew up in Conesus and still lives on the lake with his wife of 24 years and his son Dylan, 20, who is a member of the Lakeville Fire Department while completing his education.
“I clearly want to continue to provide a safe community,” he said. “How that is accomplished is based on what the crime trends are. You have to be prepared to be responsive and react to those.”
Szczesniak said that property crimes continue to be a big problem in the county. Often, he said, those crimes are the result of underlying issues such as drugs or alcohol.
The undersheriff says he wants to apply three “E’s” to crime-fighting: enforcement, education and engineering. He wants to see a community that is engage with law enforcement, but also looking out for their neighbors and turning to law enforcement when needed.
“In the community, enforcement, education or engineering a change if the issue needs addressing can apply to many different problems,” Szczesniak said.
Sheriff John M. York told The LCN that he was “going to 100 percent support the undersheriff” in Szczesniak’s campaign for sheriff.
“He is extremely qualified,” York said. “He is a motivated, educated professional whose 26-year career means that most of his adult life has been working through every division this department has.”
Szczesniak acknowledged that an investigation into alleged timecard fraud by some employees at Livingston County Jail will likely come up during the campaign.
“Interest will be there,” he said. “You just need to hear both sides of the issue.
“Some potential wrongdoing was brought to our attention. The sheriff and I look at it with the county administrator and we then penned a letter to the State Police to look at,” Szczesniak said. “This is an investigation best suited to State Police.”
Szczesniak and Dougherty are both Republicans, setting up a likely primary.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon Dougherty — a seven-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department — welcomed Szczesniak to the race, calling the sheriff’s race “the most important election that the voters of this county will have to decide in the foreseeable future, and it is important that the people have a choice when they cast their ballots.”
Dougherty invited Szczesniak to “some public debates” on the state of the Sheriff’s Department and strategies for improvement in the future.
“This election is not about the next man in line. It is about the candidate who has the skill-set to face the challenges presented by today’s social and fiscal problems,” Dougherty said. “You can’t move forward if you have your eye on the rearview mirror.”
Dougherty, in announcing his candidacy in December, cited as his qualifications a strong record of high-profile drug enforcement arrests and prior small business experience. He said he wants to find ways to maintain the department’s commitment to keeping its deputies safe and to public security while realizing efficiencies to lessen taxpayer burdens.
Dougherty, an Avon native, is a 2004 graduate of SUNY Geneseo with a degree in business management.
Szczesniak, in a news release officially announcing his candidacy Tuesday afternoon, said he “will maintain the highest quality law enforcement in the wake of diminishing local resources.”
“I bring experience and continuity to this office,” he wrote. “I will be mindful of the bottom line on behalf of the taxpayers.”