The Stark County Democratic Party’s Central Committee voted 92 to 84 to elected George Maier the next sheriff over Lt. Louis Darrow.
A divided Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee narrowly chose George Maier as the county’s next sheriff.
Maier, the safety-service director for the city of Massillon, topped Sheriff Lt. Louis Darrow by a 92 to 84 vote Tuesday at the Mayfield Senior Center. He will take office for Michael McDonald, who was elected sheriff in November but was unable to assume the position because of health reasons.
“The committee came together and did their job,” Maier said. “It’s time to move forward and do my job.”
But concerns over whether Maier meets the qualifications to become sheriff led to a sometimes contentious meeting among party electors. Procedural challenges — including a motion to adjourn as voting got underway — also muddied the meeting.
At issue is whether Maier has been a full-time police officer over the last four years or held the rank of at least corporal within the last five years. Darrow filed suit Monday with the Ohio Supreme Court in an effort to disqualify Maier as a candidate, but the high court isn’t expected to make a decision for at least a month. Party members, like Darrow, raised similar concerns.
Maier, a reserve deputy, was a trooper for the Ohio Highway Patrol from 1983 through 2007. He served four years as the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Three attorneys, including his own and two retained by Stark Democratic Party Chairman Randy Gonzalez on behalf of the party, say Maier is qualified. Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione informally validated Maier, Darrow and Hartville Police Chief Lawrence Dordea, a Republican who received one vote Tuesday, as qualified candidates.
Still, committee members questioned whether Maier has served in an equivalent post of a corporal or above and if his prior education and law training meet the requirement of two years post-secondary education or its equivalent.
Tim Swanson, interim sheriff, said he commissioned Maier as a deputy. He called him a friend who is capable of doing the job. But Swanson backed Darrow, a 26-year veteran of the department.
“I told (Maier) if he qualified I’d support him,” Swanson said. “I’m sorry, but he doesn’t qualify, so I stuck with my guy. (Maier) can do the job, and he is a wonderful guy, but he does not qualify.”
The dispute has entangled the party’s last three leaders: Gonzalez, its current chairman; Johnnie Maier Jr., brother of George Maier, and Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero.
Ferrero, who filed an affidavit in the court case challenging George Maier’s qualifications for the position, said it was the Central Committee’s duty to determine if all of the applicants were qualified. He said the party could put itself at risk of a second lawsuit.
“That’s all I am asking you,” Ferrero told the committee. “If we’re asked to make a determination, we have to do that.”
But Gonzalez challenged Ferrero’s statement. He said the party isn’t “reinventing the wheel” and that it went through similar appointment proceedings when Sheriff Bruce Umpleby died in office in 1999.
“The only action here is we are getting sued and John Ferrero signed an affidavit to sue us,” Gonzalez said. “So I really think it’s a little difficult to get up and make an argument for that.”
Michael Thompson, one of the attorneys to review Maier’s credentials, said Ferrero was asking too much. He said any challenges to Maier’s qualifications should be made after the vote.
“We’re not a judge; we’re not a jury,” he said.
MOTION TO POSTPONE
One member, Dave Kervin, asked to postpone the vote “until all candidates are qualified,” but the motion lacked support.
Another committee member, Cynthia Balas-Bratton of Massillon, twice asked that the meeting be adjourned, including as Stark County Board of Elections officials handed out ballots. Balas-Bratton repeatedly called “point of order” as Gonzalez began the meeting, but was met with pleas to “sit down” by both Gonzalez and fellow Democrats.
Bill DeMora, a secretary with the Ohio Democratic Party, was on hand at the request of Gonzalez to oversee proceedings. DeMora jumped in and stopped Gonzalez as he began to endorse Maier for the position, telling Gonzalez he wasn’t allowed to do so from the podium in his capacity as party chairman.
DeMora also forced the committee to vote on the motions to table the vote and adjourn the meeting when Gonzalez dismissed the requests. He also rejected a request that the committee vote by secret ballot.
Darrow, new to the political arena, called his candidacy “a learning process,” and said he will consult with his attorney about what steps to take next.
“I don’t know what the next step is,” he said. “I have to talk to (legal) counsel to see what the issues are. We had a lot of support as you can see — 84 to 92. We had a lot of support in this room. We didn’t know how it was going to go. We felt confident, and we were close.”
Maier said the dispute “certainly challenges the emotions,” but added that he wants to move on.
“I don’t think now is the time to think about it,” Maier said of Darrow’s legal challenge. “I want to get this past us tonight. If that (court ruling) happens, it’s something we’ll have to deal with. For now, we have to do what’s best for the sheriff’s office and what’s best for the county.”