Paul Patterson knew he was going to change his vote about a week before the Stark County Democratic Central Committee met to appoint a new sheriff.
The decision had little to do with the barrage of phone calls and letters he received from supporters of former Massillon Safety-Service Director George Maier and Sheriff Lt. Louis Darrow, both considered the front-runners among the four sheriff candidates. It had even less to do with the fact that some of his relatives have worked for Maier's brother and family friends in the Massillon municipal court system.
What caused the Perry Township Precinct 11 committeeman to vote for Maier on Wednesday was the men and women at the Stark County Sheriff's Office.
"Everybody I talked to said things (at the sheriff's office) had really changed," said Patterson, who is serving his second two-year term as a committee member. "I have no love for the Maier family. I do not know George, but I'm quite familiar with (brother) Johnnie and some of (his actions) ... raised a lot of questions for me. ... I took time to find out from the people who worked out there."
Patterson was one of the 11 members of the Democratic central committee who voted for Darrow during the committee's first sheriff appointment in February but changed their vote to Maier on Wednesday. The vote shift helped Maier, who served as sheriff for nine months, widen the eight-vote lead he had over Darrow in February to a 36-vote win Wednesday.
The Repository obtained the list of votes by committee member from the Ohio Democratic Party through a public records request. According to the county party's recently amended bylaws, members had to sign their ballots for their votes to be counted.
A comparison of the committee's votes from February and Wednesday shows that of the 167 members who attended Wednesday's meeting:
- 77 percent of them supported the same candidate.
- 10 percent of them changed their vote. Maier received a dozen changed votes; Darrow received four.
- 13 percent of them were new voters, as they had not attended the February meeting. Fourteen of the new votes went for Maier and eight were for Darrow.
The breakdown also shows that 20 of Darrow's supporters from February didn't show up Wednesday and, unlike Maier, he did have enough new voters to offset the loss. Eleven committee members didn't attend either meeting.
Since Wednesday, committee members who supported Maier have been watching to see whether retired Sheriff Timothy Swanson will once again try to throw out their vote. Soon after the committee selected Maier as sheriff in February, Swanson filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court that challenged whether Maier held the proper qualifications to be sheriff. The court determined on Nov. 6 that he did not and removed Maier from office, reappointed Swanson as acting sheriff and ordered the central committee to meet again and appoint a sheriff.
Page 2 of 2 - During Wednesday's meeting, Swanson made an impassioned plea to the committee to back Darrow because he believes Maier still does not have the proper credentials to serve as sheriff.
"Let's not do this again," he said.
While Maier has gained law-enforcement experience by working as a full-time sheriff deputy in Harrison County, Swanson said he believes the experience doesn't count because the Supreme Court already ruled that Maier wasn't qualified in February. Swanson also questioned whether Maier meets the supervisory or educational requirements that state law says a sheriff must have.
On Friday, Swanson's attorney Gregory Beck said it's "very likely" they will continue to challenge Maier's qualifications, but that no official decision had been made. Beck also is awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court on his request for the court to compel the Democratic committee to consider only Darrow and Hartville Police Chief Lawrence Dordea as candidates for the sheriff appointment because they were the only two qualified applicants in February. The Supreme Court said this week that it would not stop the Democrats from meeting Wednesday, but it did not weigh in on the merits of the request.
Bill Smuckler, a longtime Canton councilman and committee representative for Canton City Precinct 8G, said the threat of more litigation did weigh on his decision for sheriff. But too many other factors, such as the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association's support of Maier, made him change his vote from Darrow to Maier.
He said he was looking forward to next spring, when county voters could choose who should be the county's top law-enforcement officer.
"The one great thing in these United States is that next year is an election and Lou or George or whomever wants to can put their name on the ballot," Smuckler said. "They can leave it up to the people, rather than a small group of electors."
The candidate filing deadline for the May primary is Feb. 5.
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @kyoungREP