CANTON: The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday removed Stark County Sheriff George T. Maier from office, saying he does not meet the legal requirements in state law to hold the job.
In its decision, the court’s 5-2 majority reinstated former Sheriff Timothy A. Swanson and said he will serve as acting sheriff until the county’s Democratic Central Committee meets to select a replacement.
That meeting must come between five and 45 days from Wednesday’s ruling.
Maier, sheriff for about nine months, was present at his office Wednesday morning but was unavailable for comment because he was in a meeting, his secretary said. He later released a statement:
“Today I was notified that the Supreme Court has ruled to remove me from office as Sheriff and reinstate Sheriff Timothy Swanson.
“I am saddened by the news of the Supreme Court. I have always and continue to believe that I meet the requirements to be Sheriff. I respect the ruling of the Court and will follow their decision.
“It has always been and continues to be my goal to assist and support the Stark County Sheriff’s Office as a loyal and professional public servant. It has been my honor to serve as the Stark County Sheriff.”
Swanson’s attorney, James F. Mathews, could not say when Swanson would return to the department. Neither could he say whether the former — and now current — sheriff was in Stark County.
“He has been living in Florida,” Mathews said.
Swanson, who remains bonded, meaning he can take over duties immediately, later released his own statement:
“As a result of the decision issued by the Ohio Supreme Court this morning, I have been reinstated as acting Sheriff of Stark County until the Democratic Central Committee appoints a qualified candidate.
“This decision is not a victory for Tim Swanson but rather an assurance to the citizens of Stark County that a qualified and eligible person will serve in the office of Sheriff.
“There will be no more comments made regarding the decision.”
Democrats appointed Maier in February to replace Lt. Michael A. McDonald, who had won election the previous November to replace Swanson, who had planned to retire. McDonald was unable to take office due to illness, however, and subsequently died.
Precinct committee members were divided in their choice, with a minority backing sheriff’s Lt. Louis A. Darrow, who had been Swanson’s favored candidate.
After Maier’s selection, Swanson asked the state high court to remove him from office on grounds that he did not meet statutory requirements.
The law says a sheriff must have served as a full-time officer for at least three previous years and have either held a recent rank of corporal or above or have education equal to a two-year college degree.
At the time of his selection as sheriff, Maier was Massillon’s safety and service director. He had a 24-year career with the State Highway Patrol and had been assistant director of the state Department of Public Safety.
Stark County commissioners praised Maier after their regular weekly meeting Wednesday.
Commissioner Thomas Bernabei said Maier “has really performed in an extraordinary manner” and helped with issues such as the county crime lab and emergency dispatching in addition to his primary duties of providing road patrol and running the jail.
“I thank him for his service to Stark County and to the board,” said Bernabei, a Democrat.
Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton alluded to past difficulties stemming from the embezzlement of $3 million from the office of Gary Zeigler, a former county treasurer.
Fallout from that incident included the Ohio Supreme Court returning Zeigler to office after commissioners had removed him.
“Every time we think we’ve taken three steps forward, we take five steps back,” Creighton said. “The public, I hope, understands that this is something that’s out of our control.
“I do appreciate the service that he has given and I think he gained the respect of many on both sides of the aisle,” she said of Maier.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Richard Regula said Maier had done “an outstanding job” that included enhancing roadside litter removal, improving the 911 system and increasing jail staff.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for George Maier, and we’re going to miss him,” Regula said. “As a county, we’ve got to move forward and see where we go from here.”
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote that he would “liberally” construe the statutory requirements to count Maier’s experience with Massillon and the state as valid qualifications.
“Today, this court holds that a person who has been the assistant director of the Department of Public Safety is unqualified to be a county sheriff,” Pfeifer wrote.