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The Suburbanite
  • Maier out because of flawed law

  • The issue: Legal qualifications for county sheriff
    Our view: Unnecessary requirement deprives Stark of good administrator
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  • The issue: Legal qualifications for county sheriff
    Our view: Unnecessary requirement deprives Stark of good administrator
    Stark County is losing a good public servant because of a flawed state law — for the second time in two years.
    The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Sheriff George T. Maier doesn't meet one qualification for holding the office he was appointed to in February. Like the fiasco in 2011 when the Supreme Court gave disgraced county Treasurer Gary Zeigler his job back, the Maier ruling hinges on the wording of a state law.
    We don't like the decision, but we can't refute the court's logic. Though Maier spent many years as an Ohio Highway Patrol trooper, he had not worked as a "full-time peace officer" within five years of his appointment as sheriff. This is one of several requirements in the labyrinthine law on qualifications for sheriff candidates.
    It's an unnecessary restriction, and sometimes, as in this case, it's counterproductive. The Legislature should eliminate it. But don't hold your breath.
    Maier got the job in the saddest of circumstances. He was appointed by his party after his fellow Democrat, Michael McDonald, who had just been elected sheriff, relinquished the office for health reasons.
    Maier is doing a good job. The sheriff's role is administrative, and he has made smart, sensible decisions that draw on his administrative experience with the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
    He has proved in practice that he's qualified to be sheriff. But he's not qualified according to the law. Unfortunately, most legislators in Columbus couldn't care less about fixing it.
    If they cared about laws that affect county government, they would have fixed the law that Stark County commissioners used to oust Zeigler in 2010 for lax oversight of his office, which had helped his chief deputy to steal nearly $3 million. The Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional and put Zeigler back in office. Since then, Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, has twice introduced a bill that would resolve the constitutional issues, but it has gone nowhere.
    That story had a happier ending locally: Alexander Zumbar, the competent treasurer who was ousted when Zeigler got his job back, is now Stark County's duly-elected treasurer.
    Next November, voters will choose someone to fill the last two years of the sheriff's term. Maier can run for the job — if he gets that all-important boots-on-the-ground experience in the meantime.

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