Former Stark County Sheriff Timothy Swanson, whose last day in office was Thursday, has sent a letter to county Prosecutor John Ferrero asking him to take “whatever steps are necessary to begin legal action” to determine whether new Sheriff George Maier meets all of the statutory requirements to take over the office.
Five attorneys on one side are telling retired Stark County Sheriff Timothy Swanson that his successor doesn’t meet the state’s requirements to hold the job. At least one attorney on the other side says that George Maier is indeed qualified.
Swanson, whose last day in office was Thursday, wants to settle the issue once and for all. He sent a letter to Prosecutor John D. Ferrero last week asking him to take “whatever steps are necessary to begin legal action” to determine whether Maier is qualified to assume the position that was vacated by Michael A. McDonald.
McDonald was elected sheriff in November but was unable to assume the position because of health reasons.
“I would like to know what the truth is,” said Swanson, who agreed to remain as sheriff until a successor was chosen. “... Somebody has to make the determination if this guy is qualified. I don’t know who does that and I don’t know how it’s done. That’s why I wrote the letter to the prosecutor’s office.”
At issue is whether Maier has been a full-time law enforcement officer during the last four years and whether he held the rank of at least corporal within the last five years or if his prior education and law training meet the requirement of two years post-secondary education or its equivalent.
Maier, who was Massillon’s safety service director for roughly a year, believes his law-enforcement experience is equivalent to the qualifications defined in the law. He has spent 24 years as an Ohio Highway Patrol trooper, retiring as a district commander in 2007. He also served as the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety for four years before returning home to Stark County, where he has maintained special deputy status with the Stark County’s Sheriff Office since July 2011.
Maier, whose state-required bond was approved by commissioners Monday, said he was not aware of Swanson’s letter.
Swanson said his questions about Maier’s qualifications are not personal, adding that he believes Maier would make a great sheriff. He worries that if someone later determines that Maier is not qualified, the arrests made by sheriff deputies could be voided.
“I’m not trying to hurt Maier, I’m trying to protect the office,” Swanson said.
Swanson said he was prompted to send the letter to Ferrero after the Stark County Democratic Party’s Central Committee narrowly selected Maier as sheriff over Lt. Louis Darrow, a 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s office.
“I would have thought that it would have been our job as a central committee to vet (the candidates) to see if they are eligible for this position, but that didn’t happen,” said Swanson, who backed Darrow.
Swanson said a state Democratic Party official told him that only three people could further contest Maier’s eligibility under law: The county sheriff, county prosecutor and state attorney general.
Swanson said Ferrero felt uncomfortable contesting Maier’s eligibility because he had filed an affidavit in Darrow’s lawsuit before the Ohio Supreme Court that sought to disqualify Maier as a candidate.
Ferrero did not return a call seeking comment Monday. Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Ross Rhodes declined to comment on Swanson’s letter Monday or describe what legal avenues the office could pursue.
Darrow’s attorney Gregory Beck said he contacted Swanson about his letter but declined to say whether Swanson’s request would be combined with the ongoing lawsuit.
“The sheriff has requested some action be taken and we’re following up with him on that,” Beck said Monday.
Beck said he’ll likely take some kind of action on the lawsuit Tuesday. Options include withdrawing the lawsuit, amending it or making an additional filing, he said.
“Something is coming, but the form I can’t reveal at this point,” Beck said.