CANTON: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted will be asked to break a deadlock from the Stark County Board of Elections over the candidacy of Sheriff George T. Maier.
The board’s two Democratic members voted Friday to reject a protest lodged by a Massillon woman over Maier’s prospective inclusion on the primary election ballot. The two Republican members agreed with Cynthia Balas-Bratton and her attorney, Craig Conley, that Maier did not meet requirements in state law for recent service as a peace officer and as a ranking officer.
The decision followed a day of testimony in a hearing that revisited issues that have been raised in four court cases over the past year. The first lawsuit resulted in the Ohio Supreme Court removing Maier from office. The court dismissed a second suit that sought to prevent his reappointment.
In favoring Maier’s appearance on the ballot, elections board Chairman Samuel Ferruccio, a Democrat, pointed to the sheriff’s more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement, which culminated in stints as Massillon’s director of safety and service and as assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. In the latter position, his job included supervising the colonel who ran the Ohio Highway Patrol.
“He’s who everybody reported to,” Ferruccio said.
Republican board member William Cline said the state law requiring a sheriff to have recent supervisory experience at the rank of corporal or above makes no provision for equivalency if the job belongs to a civilian manager. Therefore, he said, there was no evidence Maier had held the required rank recently.
Similarly, Cline found that Maier did not meet the alternative qualification for two years of postsecondary education. An affidavit from a Stark State College official about training that could be converted to college credit meant only that Maier could get the credit, not that he did, Cline said; enrollment in the college would be required for the prior education to count toward a degree.
Cline also dismissed as sufficient the month of service as a uniformed deputy that Maier performed in Harrison County between his November removal by the Ohio Supreme Court and his reinstatement Dec. 11. State law requires a candidate for sheriff to have recent full-time experience as a peace officer.
Agreeing with Cline was fellow Republican board member Curt Braden. Democrat Deametrious St. John sided with Ferruccio.
Conley had asked Husted and the 5th District Court of Appeals, without success, to disallow St. John’s participation in Friday’s decision because he twice had voted as a precinct committeeman to appoint Maier as sheriff and had made favorable comments about him in two newspapers.
Among those testifying before the elections board on Friday was Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association. He said Maier met the qualifications specified in the state law he helped write in 1987.
The next step, according to Stark County Board of Elections Director Jeff Matthews, is for his office to send a record of the protest to the Secretary of State’s Office within two weeks.
One person who said he won’t be giving an opinion to Husted is his regional liaison, Don Robart, the former Cuyahoga Falls mayor.
Robart told the Beacon Journal in a story published Friday that the decision over Maier’s candidacy seemed like a “no-brainer” because the Ohio Supreme Court had removed him from office.
“I regret those comments,” Robart said during a break in Friday’s hearing. “I spoke prematurely.”
Robart said his involvement in the decision will be limited to relaying to Husted what he saw and heard in the case. After hearing half a day’s testimony, he said, “I could almost argue both sides.”
Nancy Molnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.