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The Suburbanite
  • What it takes to wear the sheriff's badge

  • As the legal battle continues over who should be Stark County’s sheriff, we look at how the requirements for the job have changed dramatically through the years.

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  • The county’s top cops didn’t necessarily need law-enforcement experience to hold the job. Or supervisory experience.
    They weren’t even required to submit to a background check before seeking the office.
    For 41 of the 45 men who have held the title of Stark County’s sheriff since 1809, state laws  required them only to be a U.S. citizen, a county resident for at least one year and registered to vote to hold the position of county sheriff.
    It wasn’t until 1987 — midway through Sheriff J.     Babe Stearn’s first four-year term — that legislators set minimum standards for a county’s highest law-enforcement officer. The changes added more than 1,500 words to the then 37-word law and has set off more than two dozen court fights, including the ongoing lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court that pits Stark County’s former sheriff against the new sheriff.
    Attorneys for former Sheriff Timothy Swanson and current Sheriff George T. Maier have filed their remaining legal briefs and the case has not been turned over to the justices for review. The court must determine whether Swanson has proved that Maier does not possess the necessary law enforcement, supervisory and educational experience to meet the state’s standards for sheriff.
    EVOLVING LAW
    Robert Cornwell, executive director Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association said the association that represents all Ohio sheriffs sought the law changes 26 years ago as a way to professionalize the office.
    “We in the association felt there needed to be more ... because you are talking about an individual in county government that can deprive an individual of their rights and liberties,” he said.
    The current law — Ohio Revised Code section 311.01 — lists nine qualifications that sheriff candidates must meet. The first four are the same requirements that a candidate for any county elected office must meet: Be a U.S. citizen, a county resident for at least a year, a registered voter and a high-school graduate.
    The next three qualifications are the same measures that many law-enforcement officers must meet to qualify for a job: They cannot have previous felony or first-degree misdemeanor convictions, must undergo a criminal background check and must submit a six-year employment and residency history.
    It’s the final two qualifications that are tailored for the job of sheriff — and have been the most revised and contested over the years.
    One qualification requires a sheriff candidate to have a certain level of law- enforcement experience. It was added to the law in 1987, expanded in 1997 to provide additional options on how to meet the requirement and then revised in 1997 by reducing the length of full-time experience needed from five to three years.
    Today, the requirement states that a candidate must have worked as a full-time law-enforcement officer for at least the last three years or have served as a certified peace officer or highway patrol trooper within the past four years.
    Page 2 of 4 - The other qualification requires a sheriff candidate to have either two years of supervisory experience as a peace officer or two years of post-secondary education. Legislators have made the requirement more difficult to meet since it was added to the law in 1987.
    In 1997, lawmakers restricted what could qualify as supervisory experience by saying that the candidate within the last five years must have been a peace officer holding the rank of at least corporal or was a trooper holding at least the rank of sergeant.
    Cornwell said the association had lobbied for the five-year time limit.
    “Initially, it was opened-ended, and (the candidate’s supervisory experience) could have been 20 years ago and they could have gone back to being a deputy and had supervised nobody since,” he said. “We requested it be changed so that you were used to supervising people because as sheriff that is what you were going to be doing.”
    It’s these two requirements that have ensnared the Stark County Sheriff’s Office since January when Sheriff-elect Michael A. McDonald notified county commissioners that he could not assume the office voters elected him to in November due to health reasons.
    IN COURT
    A week after the Stark County Democratic Party’s Central Committee appointed Maier, then Massillon’s safety-service director as sheriff, Swanson asked the Ohio Supreme Court to remove Maier from the office and reinstall Swanson to the post. The lawsuit then seeks to force the Stark County Democrats to choose a new sheriff from the two other candidates who also had sought the appointment: Sheriff Lt. Louis Darrow, whom Swanson recruited and supported, and Hartville Police Chief Lawrence Dordea, a Republican.
    Swanson, former president of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, said in court filings that he respects Maier, a longtime trooper for the Ohio Highway Patrol who also served four years as the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, but he doesn’t want Stark County to skirt the law.
    “I worked for 13 years as a sheriff on the (association’s) board to get the law to where it was, and I don’t want to go around it,” Swanson said.
    Maier has responded to the lawsuit by saying in court filings that Swanson’s actions are politically motivated and he’s attempting to overrule the Democratic Central Committee’s vote by putting Darrow in the sheriff’s seat. Maier’s attorneys noted that Swanson authorized an agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police that allowed Darrow to sidestep civil service rules and apply for the vacancy.
    The Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case that states the association believes Maier's experience qualifies him for the office. Cornwell said he hopes the high court will make a ruling in the case - rather than dismiss it on a technicality - so the issue will not linger throughout Maier's term.
    Page 3 of 4 - QUALIFIED?
    In the hundreds of pages of testimony and legal briefs that have been filed in the case since February, four primary areas of contention have emerged:
    1. Whether Maier’s brief stint as a deputy for the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office in January qualifies as full time, which would meet the statute’s law-enforcement requirement.
    Maier was appointed a full-time Harrison County deputy, and obtained its corresponding a peace officer certification, on Jan. 6. He worked an eight-hour shift on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13 before resigning to seek the Stark County sheriff appointment.
    Swanson’s attorneys said the 16 hours Maier worked in Harrison County doesn’t meet state requirements because it was not full-time employment. They said to be considered full time in Harrison County, deputies must work 80 hours within a 14-day span.
    Attorney Greg Beck claimed that Maier obtained the job only to buttress his qualifications for the sheriff appointment. He noted that Harrison County did not have a vacancy at that time, Maier already had begun verifying his educational credentials for his application and the department never provided Maier a uniform, badge or fixed work schedule.
    Maier denies taking the position to enhance his candidacy for sheriff. He said in a deposition filed with the court that he knew Harrison County Sheriff Ronald J. Myers from his time as a Ohio Highway Patrol post commander and they had multiple conversations about him becoming a deputy. He said it wasn’t until an increase in oil and gas drilling gave Harrison County a boost in revenue that the job became available.
    Maier said he decided to take the position because he hadn’t yet determined whether he would to seek the Stark County sheriff appointment.
    “I was considering it,” Maier testified. “I can’t say I decided (to seek the appointment) until the week that I made the application.”
    Sheriff Myers testified that he appointed Maier to the full-time job knowing that Maier already held a full-time job as Massillon’s safety-service director. He said he had expected Maier to work weekends and evenings to meet the required number of hours. He said he didn’t know Maier had been considering the sheriff appointment when he hired him.
    2. Whether Maier’s employment as assistant director and interim director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety would qualify him as a full-time peace officer who enforces statutes, ordinances or codes, which would meet the law- enforcement requirement.
    As assistant director of the state agency from 2008 to January 2011 and interim director for one week in January 2011, Maier said he held a peace officer certificate of training even though the job didn’t require it. He said he obtained it so he could work with the enforcement agents in the agency’s Ohio Investigative Unit. Glenn Taylor Sr., executive director of the investigative unit from 2007 to 2011, said Maier had full arrest powers and helped enforce laws when he participated in the unit’s activities, which included Ohio University’s Halloween party, Ohio State University’s football games and the Jamboree-in-the-Hills country concert.
    Page 4 of 4 - Swanson’s attorneys said the jobs do not meet the definition of a peace officer because they were administrative positions and Maier’s role as an enforcement agent with the investigative unit wasn’t his full-time job but more of an ancillary appointment because he didn’t receive additional compensation beyond his regular salary.
    3. Whether Maier’s job at the Ohio Department of Public Safety could be considered a peace officer position above the rank of corporal, which would meet statute’s supervisory requirement.
    Swanson’s attorneys said Maier does not meet the supervisory requirement because his job as assistant director and interim director are administrative roles and exist outside the rank structure of any law-enforcement agency. They also said Maier’s supervision of employees, including staff with Highway Patrol, was not in the capacity of a peace officer but in his administrative role as assistant director.
    Maier’s attorneys countered that the job descriptions for the positions required Maier to supervise and direct employees that serve in positions above the rank of corporal, such as the colonel of the Ohio Highway Patrol. They said the law is silent as to whether the supervisory rank must be a military rank or whether it can be a civilian position that has statutory, supervisory responsibilities over the rank of corporal.
    4. Whether Maier’s prior learning and work experience gives him more than 48 credit hours to meet the statute’s education requirement.
    Maier said Stark State College has determined that he has the equivalent of 67 college-level semester hours based on the previous credit hours he earned from the University of Louisville and Ohio University and his prior work experience.
    But Swanson’s attorneys said Stark State’s policy requires a student to complete 12 hours of coursework at the college in order to earn credit for prior learning or work experience. Maier has enrolled at Stark State but has not signed up for classes.
    Without the prior work experience credits, Maier would have only 18 credit hours.
    Swanson’s attorneys said even if Stark State accepted Maier’s prior learning, the college’s policies state that only up to 30 hours of life experience can be converted into credit hours.
    Maier must meet at least one of the law-enforcement qualifications and either the supervisory experience or the education requirement, not both, to qualify as sheriff.