The issue: Stark County sheriff
The Stark County Democratic Central Committee overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to reinstate George T. Maier as sheriff. We wish this were the end of an ugly episode in Stark County law enforcement, but wishing seems unlikely to make it so.
Stark County residents have watched this saga unfold for a very long year, after Michael McDonald, the man they elected sheriff, was unable to take office.
Last month, when the Ohio Supreme Court ousted Maier, we were disappointed because he had done the job for more than nine months with intelligence and a flair for innovation. But we understood the court’s logic: Maier wasn’t qualified when Democrats appointed him in February because he had not worked as a “full-time” peace officer within four years of his appointment to sheriff. But the court did not say how much boots-on-the-ground experience he would need to be considered qualified under state law. In an effort to address the court’s concerns, Maier has been working as a full-time deputy in Harrison County since November. No one knows whether the court, if it’s faced with a challenge to Maier’s reappointment, will accept this short stint as valid experience.
The sheriff’s role is administrative, and Maier has more than proved his abilities as an administrator. Our concern about the Democrats’ appointing Maier a second time is that county residents will be subjected to many more months of uncertainty because of the likelihood of lawsuits. And we were — and are — concerned that this seemingly never-ending legal and political tangle may reactivate the public’s unhappiness with county government, which has made great strides to recover residents’ confidence in the wake of the scandal in the treasurer’s office.
And that brings us to Wednesday night, when almost 200 Stark County Democrats gathered at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church to appoint a sheriff — again.
The atmosphere was tense, with supporters of Maier and Sheriff’s Lt. Lou Darrow sitting on opposite sides of the church. We imagine this is what a Hatfield-McCoy wedding might have looked like, with lawyers instead of gun-toting families volleying over points of order and the law until the vote was taken. Then Maier and interim Sheriff Timothy Swanson shook hands and smiled for the cameras. No one is fooled by this show of unity. Lawsuits are pending, and it appears more could be filed.
This whole affair has given the Stark County Democratic Party a self-inflicted black eye. Some say the party’s finest hour in recent history was in 2011 when the Central Committee appointed Alexander Zumbar, a Republican, county treasurer. Democratic Party leaders put the politics of that situation aside and appointed a qualified candidate who stabilized the treasurer’s office and restored its credibility in the eyes of residents. This was the kind of happy ending we were hoping for with the sheriff’s office debacle, but that seems unlikely now.