CANTON: By an eight-vote margin, Stark County’s Democratic precinct committee representatives picked Massillon’s safety-service director to serve as the next sheriff Tuesday.
A total of 92 of the 179 committee men and women voted for George T. Maier to serve the next two years as the county’s chief law enforcement officer.
There were 84 votes for Lt. Louis Darrow — the choice of outgoing Sheriff Timothy Swanson — and one for Republican Lawrence Dordea, a Hartville police chief and Alliance councilman. Two votes went uncounted because they were unsigned.
Swanson has filled the position on an interim basis for the past month because the man elected in November to replace him, Michael McDonald, was unable to assume the office because of health reasons.
“George’s managerial skills far outweigh Lou’s,” said one of those who voted, Jim Shannon, who retired 15 years ago as a captain in the sheriff’s office.
Swanson said he backed Darrow for the job “only because he’s qualified” and familiar with the department’s policies and procedures.
Maier, 53, said his priorities are to be regarded as a sheriff of integrity and to forge stronger cooperation among law enforcement agencies to reduce crime and traffic fatalities.
County Prosecutor John Ferrero and a contingent of like-minded committeemen sought to delay the election of a new sheriff on grounds Maier did not hold the proper qualifications, such as serving as a ranking officer for two of the past five years.
“We have to determine whether a person meets the qualifications of the Revised Code,” Ferrero said.
He predicted the question could lead to the same kind of problems that occurred when commissioners removed Gary Zeigler as treasurer after a theft occurred in his office. The Ohio Supreme Court subsequently reinstated him.
“I don’t want that to happen again, ladies and gentlemen,” Ferrero said. “There’s going to be a lawsuit.”
Darrow already had filed a suit Monday, asking the state Supreme Court to stop Tuesday’s selection. The court took no action, and the meeting went forward as planned.
After losing the job to Maier, Darrow said he was uncertain whether to proceed with legal action.
County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Gonzalez said the three candidates were qualified, having been cleared to seek office by Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione.
Maier, too, said it was not important whether he held a rank of corporal or higher for a given number of recent years.
He said his position as safety-service director put him above all police and fire employees. He also served as assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety after retiring from the Highway Patrol as a captain.
His brother, Johnnie Maier Jr., is Massillon’s clerk of courts and a former county Democratic Party chairman.
Darrow, a political newcomer and 26-year employee of the sheriff’s office, had the backing of the Stark County Deputies Association.
Maier said he expects to take office within a week.
Nancy Molnar can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.