Michael Amato is looking to break the two-decade mark as the head of Montgomery County’s Sheriff’s Department.
Earlier this week the sheriff of 17 years declared his candidacy for another four-year term. So far, Amato is running uncontested, even while former Undersheriff Jeff Smith bides his time for a run in 2018.
“He’s waiting in the wings,” Amato said.
Smith retired from his longtime role as Amato’s right-hand man back in January. He stepped directly into his current job as county emergency management director, saying at the time that he planned to run for sheriff at some point.
On Tuesday he said he won’t be challenging Amato in this fall’s race.
“Right now I’m concentrating on being the best emergency management director I can be,” he said.
Amato said last year he and Smith had discussed the future.
“I told him I was running again,” he said, “and he always said he wouldn’t run until I retired.”
Amato started with the Sheriff’s Department 35 years ago. His job description was officially recorded as part-time corrections officer.
“We didn’t do just one thing back then,” he said. “It was the Wild West. We did some of everything.”
Now nearly 57 years old, Amato said he feels too good to quit.
“I have projects I want to finish,” he said.
Recently Amato and deputies at the Montgomery County Jail have been working to expand the jail’s prisoner capacity without actually expanding the building. Currently it is rated to hold 166 inmates.
Before a recent streamlining effort there was enough room for only 156.
“We’re converting rooms we weren’t using into prisoner space,” he said.
By the end of the process, he hopes to get rated for 176 prisoners. These might seem like relatively small improvements, but just a few extra bunks have significant earning potential if the county can take in other agencies’ prisoners.
“We get $115 a day for federal prisoners,” Amato said.
The county jail essentially rents its free space, taking in federal prisoners and prisoner overflow from other counties with smaller jails.
A pod of six new cells in the jail could net the county $250,000 in a year if filled by federal prisoners.
“That’s a serious chunk of change,” Amato said.
The interior jail expansions are Amato’s brainchild and he wants to see them through.
Over the last few years the Sheriff’s Department has also been working on some communications and infrastructure upgrades. The Montgomery County 911 phone system was recently tied in with Fulton County, forming a mutual back-up system.
The Sheriff’s Department is also working to strengthen its radio network, tying the county system into towers across a dozen other counties all the way up to the Canadian border.
While no one else is running for sheriff, and Amato doesn’t know of any potential challengers on the brink of declaration, he hopes county residents will elect him based upon merit.
“I hope people think we’re doing a good job,” he said.