County Executive Ryan McMahon (right) and Benjamin Yaus (left), an assistant county attorney sit at a public hearing about the closure of Jamesville Correctional Facility. Credit: Chris Libonati |

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon Wednesday held a 12-minute public hearing on the closure of Jamesville Correctional Facility in which two members of the public attended.

The meeting was a requirement under the law because the county Legislature voted to change a local law when it voted to close Jamesville.

The two members of the public who attended the public hearing were Onondaga County Legislator Mary Kuhn and Andy Mager.

Kuhn has been one of the biggest critics of the potential closure of Jamesville. She has said the process was rushed and happened too quickly after Sheriff Toby Shelley took office.

Kuhn and Shelley are both Democrats.

Kuhn said scheduling the hearing for 10 a.m. on a weekday made it harder for people to attend. She asked McMahon whether he’d received the same letters the Legislature opposing the plan to close Jamesville.

“I represent 477,000 people, much more than you,” McMahon said. “I know what public opinion feels like — rest assured.”

After the hearing, McMahon took questions about the proposal to close Jamesville for the first time since he and former Sheriff Eugene Conway announced their proposal in early December.

County executive explains thinking on Jamesville closure

McMahon said he believes closing the correctional facility is not top of mind for most constituents.

He called the closure “inside baseball” and a “county governance issue.”

“I appreciate all the concerns and I appreciate the reality that I’m the CEO of this county government,” McMahon said.

The sheriff’s office has not been able not adequately transport defendants to court hearings, violating a court settlement and potentially defendants’ constitutional rights.

State officials from the Office of Indigent Legal Services, which enforces the court settlement notified the county of its failure to comply with the settlement in November.

McMahon said the county has been trying to fix staffing issues with its transport division at the jail since 2019.

The county executive said Conway tried to hire retired deputies to transport incarcerated people, which ultimately failed.

County officials also repeatedly said that they approached CSEA, the union that represented employees at Jamesville, and the union for deputies, who represents jail employees, to try to merge the facilities.

The negotiations failed during Conway’s tenure.

Shelley inherited an unfixable staffing issue, McMahon said.

Deadline to close Jamesville Correctional Facility may be flexible

The legislation closing Jamesville included an April 1 deadline.

McMahon said Wednesday the deadline could be flexible as long as the sheriff acted in good faith.

Shelley has remained adamant that he would not move incarcerated people from Jamesville to the jail unless the state Commission of Correction approves the plans to do so.

Shelley has said the commission plans to conduct what he labeled a “feasibility study.” He wants to see the results of the study before moving ahead with Jamesville’s closure, but the study has not yet started, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Tom Newton.

Could construction be needed at the Onondaga County jail?

In a letter to the state last week, McMahon wrote that the county would consider building a fourth tower at the jail if it ultimately needs to create more space.

Building another tower would cost the county $20 to $30 million, McMahon said. That’s equivalent to about two or three years’ savings from closing Jamesville.

In the letter to the state, McMahon proposed boarding incarcerated individuals at other county jails if the jail ultimately proves to be too small.

McMahon said Wednesday the cost to send incarcerated people to other jails is cheaper than keeping Jamesville open.

The penitentiary currently costs about $21 million to run.

What happens to the land Jamesville Correctional Facility sits on?

McMahon repeatedly said that those who have speculated about the future of the Jamesville site are ” putting the cart before the horse.”

When the Legislature voted to effectively close Jamesville, they also voted to delay any potential sale of the land that it sits on for at least a year.

Mager, the community member in attendance at the meeting, spoke Wednesday about the potential sale of the property and the fact that Jamseville sits on Onondaga Nation burial grounds. He expressed concern about the county potentially selling the land.

McMahon quashed any idea there were plans to develop the property.

“Those are rumors and in my line of work you can’t respond to rumors with credibility,” McMahon said.

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Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or