Some may still argue that former Stark County Sheriff Timothy Swanson is acting on principle, but it's looking more and more like spite. County commissioners are refusing to pay Swanson's lawyers for his successful lawsuit against the appointment of George T. Maier as sheriff. In response, Swanson has upped the ante in a nonsensically vindictive way. We hope the courts back up commissioners if Swanson carries out his threat to sue for back pay — for work he didn't do.
Surely you don't want another long recap of the sheriff's office soap opera that is still unfolding after a year. If you care, you know the background; if you don't care, you're not reading this. Suffice to say:
Swanson retired at the end of 2012. Commissioners then made him interim sheriff for a few weeks because his elected successor, Michael McDonald, couldn't take office. Last February, local Democrats appointed Maier. Swanson sued, saying Maier wasn't qualified under state law. Maier served until early November, when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in Swanson's favor. Swanson served as interim sheriff again, for six weeks, until Democrats appointed Maier a second time.
Swanson wants commissioners to pay his legal bills because Ohio's top court said he was right about Maier's lack of one qualification (at least at the time Maier was first appointed). Commissioners say they won't cover Swanson's expenses in part because he didn't formally apply to the county to hire counsel and commissioners didn't have the chance to vote on such action before Swanson hired his lawyers.
So Swanson, calling this a "game" that he's willing to play, says not only will he pursue that issue, he also wants back pay for every day Maier has served as sheriff.
You heard that right: Swanson wants money for about 101⁄2 months of work that someone else has done. The Rep's Kelli Young tweeted in midweek that the cost so far would be about $102,000.
Swanson said he'd pay his lawyers and give the rest to charity, but we can't see that he has even a fraction of a leg to stand on. It's not as if Maier cheated him out of a job. In no universe did anyone — especially Swanson — want Swanson to be sheriff for any length of time after he retired.
As county Administrator Brant Luther said this week, commissioners will have to look again at their refusal to pay his legal bills if Swanson can prove they're wrong despite his failure to follow proper procedures.
Commissioners have to abide by the law. They certainly shouldn't knuckle under to an outburst of spite.