Stark County Democrats divided sharply earlier this month over whom to appoint sheriff. The man elected by voters in November to succeed then-incumbent Timothy Swanson was unable to assume the job. Michael McDonald pointed to health reasons.
That set up a spirited meeting of Democratic precinct representatives. By a 92-84 vote, they chose George Maier, Massillon’s safety-service director, brother of Johnnie Maier, Massillon’s clerk of courts and former county party chairman. Swanson, who stepped in temporarily after McDonald bowed out, filed suit challenging Maier’s qualifications last week. Swanson supports Louis Darrow, a lieutenant in his former office. He wants the Ohio Supreme Court to remove Maier, arguing, for example, that Maier did not have a valid police officer training certificate during the past four years or work as a full-time law enforcement officer within the past three years.
John Ferrero, the county prosecutor, finds Maier unqualified. Frank Forchione, a common pleas judge, cleared Maier for the office. Even Swanson admits Maier, whose career includes past service as a Ohio Highway Patrol trooper and commander and assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, is capable of doing the job, a special election for the post coming in November 2014.
The feuding underscores the difficulties inherent in Ohio’s longstanding practice of filling county-level administrative positions through elections, especially when technical qualifications are in state law. For offices such as engineer and sheriff, the qualifications, however well-intended, severely narrow the field of candidates.
The better course for counties is a charter form of government that gives an elected county executive the same power to appoint his or her top law enforcement official as enjoyed by mayors, with checks and balances supplied by a county council. Accountability would be greatly improved.
Cuyahoga County’s charter government sets the right example, giving the executive the power to appoint all administrative officers except the prosecutor. Ultimately, the state should drop its technical qualifications, voters holding an executive and county council responsible for the performance of their local government.