Sheriff Timothy Swanson will serve as interim sheriff starting Monday until the Stark County Democratic Party’s Central Committee can appoint a new sheriff. Sheriff-elect Michael A. McDonald notified commissioners Thursday that he could not assume the office due to an undisclosed illness.
Outgoing Stark County Sheriff Timothy Swanson has agreed to postpone his retirement until county Democrats pick the next top cop.
Swanson, who had planned to end his 13-year career as sheriff Sunday, took the oath Friday during a special county commissioners’ meeting. Commissioners appointed Swanson to the post after accepting a letter from Sheriff-elect Michael A. McDonald that said he could not assume the office that voters had elected him to in November due to a recent change in his medical condition.
It is believed to be the first time in at least the past three decades that someone who was elected sheriff in Ohio wasn’t able to take office.
Officials have not disclosed McDonald’s illness, but have emphasized that it is separate from the esophageal cancer that McDonald was diagnosed with in 2011.
“He’s strong, he’s fighting,” Swanson said of McDonald. “It’s a completely whole new battle he’s into now.”
Commissioner Thomas Bernabei said he recommended Swanson for the interim appointment to help with the stability of the department. He also noted that Swanson also was the only person the board knew who could immediately meet state-required qualifications for the office as well as immediately obtain the state-required bond.
Swanson will start the new term at 12:01 a.m. Monday. His first duty will be to swear in the office’s roughly 100 deputies, starting at 5:30 a.m.
Under state law, the Stark County Democratic Party’s Central Committee, which includes roughly 200 people who were elected or appointed to represent their respective precincts, must meet to appoint the next sheriff, who will hold the job until county elections are held in 2014. No meeting has been set.
The position pays $94,691 a year.
Swanson will not seek the Democrats’ appointment. But he said Friday that he plans to weigh in on the party’s decision.
“Who better to know who could be a good sheriff than someone in that capacity?” he asked.
Without providing names, he said the appointee should be able to provide stability and continuity for the office, such as current sheriff employee. He ruled out Chief Deputy Rick Perez, saying Perez intends to retire Sunday as planned.
Swanson also dismissed Hartville Police Chief Lawrence A. Dordea as a candidate. Dordea was the Republican candidate in last year’s sheriff race against McDonald and had unsuccessfully opposed Swanson for sheriff in 2008.
Dordea, however, said Friday that he intends to submit his name to the Democrats for consideration.
“I believe I could take the position, effect immediate improvement and pull together the team,” said Dordea, a former Alliance police chief and current Alliance city councilman.
Dordea acknowledged that his chances of being appointed by an opposing party are slim, especially since he’s heard rumors that Massillon Safety Service Director George Maier is the front-runner for the appointment.
Page 2 of 2 - Maier, a former longtime Ohio Highway Patrol trooper, could not be reached for comment Friday. Randy Gonzalez, chairman of the Stark County Democratic Party, said Maier, has expressed interest in the appointment.
“I think he would be one of the top candidates,” said Gonzalez, who added that Summit County Sheriff Lt. Douglas S. Smith has submitted a letter of interest and that Canton Safety Director Thomas Ream has asked to meet to discuss the position.
Gonzalez does not consider Dordea as a possibility for the appointment. He said the situation is far different than in 2011 when the Democratic party took the unprecedented step of choosing a Republican to fill a vacancy in the county treasurer’s office. He noted that Treasurer Alexander Zumbar had been elected previously by the voters and had been removed only because the Ohio Supreme Court found that the law used to remove former Treasurer Gary Zeigler from office was unconstitutional.
“He (Dordea) was in front of the voters twice, and they didn’t want him,” Gonzalez said.
Dordea said whether he’s appointed or not, he’s a likely candidate for the 2014 election. He refrained from saying he would be a definite candidate because he said he could change his mind based on the appointed sheriff’s performance.
“If whoever gets appointed to the position of sheriff (does a good job) and we’re able to start serving the public as needed ... then I might not feel the need to (run for the office),” Dordea said. “I would stand ready, but I don’t have that need for my ego and I certainly don’t have a desire to go through a grueling campaign again if it’s only for a title. I sought the job because I felt I could give (residents) the services they weren’t getting.”