Monday, October 28, 2013
(VIDEOS) SHERIFF GEORGE T. MAIER STARTING TO "CLEAN HOUSE" OF SWANSON PEOPLE?
UPDATED: 10/29/2013 AT 10:30 A.M.
As the Stark County Political Report always does, when a reader writes "responsive to the substance of" a given blog and does not resort to personal attacks that has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject matter of the blog, The Report presents - in full - a email-sent to The Report in which he praises the public work of Sheriff George T. Maier and Commissioner Tom Bernabei.
Readers should, however, note that the writer, Ron Devies, Marlboro Township police chief does, it seems to the SCPR, have reason to have hard feelings towards the Swanson administration of the sheriff's department.
Swanson's chief deputy Rick Perez testified in the trial against Devies and his son Kyle (which resulted in a dismissal "at the end of the prosecutor's case-in-chief;" [talk about a legal slamdunk] by now-retired Court of Common Pleas judge Lee Sinclair) that when he was investigating complaints by two of Marlboro's trustees (Wise and Woof) that "he wore a 'hidden' [of course] wire" in interviewing Devies.
The SCPR has written prolifically as to The Report's opinion that the Marlboro matter was nothing more than a communication problem over computer equipment and software that should never have seen the light of day in terms of leading to a criminal prosecution including, unbelievably to me, fourth degree felonies.
The Report believes and has editorialized repeatedly that the more blameworthy party, for what the SCPR believes was a case of bad judgment, is Stark County prosecutor John Ferrero who made the decision to submit the matter to a Stark County Grand Jury which, predictably (a la the adage: "a prosecutor worth his salt can get a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich) the Grand Jury indicted.
But needless to say, Rick Perez did not endear himself to Stark County law enforcement in his wearing of a wire.
So in that light and context here is the Devies e-mail:
Good Morning Martin,
Just read your article on the Sheriff and as always, found it to be insightful. I just wanted to let you know, for what it is worth, my relationship with both of these gentleman. [sic]
Next April will mark my 30th anniversary in law enforcement. In all of those preceding years, my agency has never enjoyed a good working relationship with the hierarchy of the Sheriff staff...............until George Maier. Prior to his appointment to the office, I had never even heard of George Maier, I knew his brother, but that was it. I first met him at a Stark County Police Chief's Meeting I hosted after his appointment.
Martin, this man has in just a few months changed the entire working relationship my department has with the Sheriff. Stark County law enforcement now functions as a team like I have never before seen.
Swanson always dictated to Stark's law enforcement how it was going to be and if you don't like it ......tough!
Sheriff Maier works with us, he offers his resources without pushing them or reminding us just who he is, unlike his pompous predecessor. I have found Sheriff Maier's leadership a refreshing change from the old cold war we used to endure in Stark County Law Enforcement.
As a police chief and a life long Stark Countian, I hope he gets to stay in his position, I have a lot of respect for him.
I share the same accolades for Tom Bernabei and the Commissioners. Prior to this board, I can honestly say I had never voted for an incumbent commissioner. Now I write this as a dyed in the wool life long Republican, but both of these men have made me look beyond party line
In closing, as I said before, this is MY experience with these men and my opinion is again, for what it is worth.
As always, I enjoy your blog, but felt compelled to share my experience with both men.
There may have been others before her, but there is no doubt in the thinking of the Stark County Political Report that with the firing of 13-year Stark County Sheriff legal counsel Vivianne Whalen Duffrin on October 11, "politically appointed" Sheriff George T. Maier has begun a purge of anyone working at the department closely connected to former Sheriff Tim Swanson.
It was interesting how the SCPR learned of the Maier move against Swanson associate Duffrin.
In a report from a normally reliable source that "as the source and I spoke on Thursday" of last week, a meeting was underway involving Maier, Duffrin, Swanson and a commissioner (thought to be Tom Bernabei) wherein Duffrin was dismissed in a heated exchange between those in attendance.
It turns out that the report in terms of the particulars was not correct and was likely the product of someone's (the SCPR source's source) - let's be kind - "overactive imagination."
But the core substance of the report (Duffrin's compelled departure) was correct.
As told to the SCPR by Duffrin herself in a conversation on this Saturday past; on October 11th, "out-of-the-blue," Maier brought Duffrin into his office and told her he was dismissing her from employment.
His explanation to her?
He decided to go in a different direction!
So Duffrin "gathered her belongings" and left without so much as being afforded the opportunity "to say her goodbyes" to the many friends she has at 4500 Atlantic Boulevard that she had cutivated over 13 years at Stark County's version of "the big house."
What does "going in a different direction" mean?
Nobody but George Maier and his political confidants (undoubtedly his brother Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. who is former Stark County Democratic Party chairman and still an officer with the Stark Dems and his tag-along and Stark County Dems political director Shane Jackson) know.
It is apparent to the SCPR that Sheriff George T. Maier has embarked on an elimination of folks he questions the personal political loyalty of.
Duffrin was vulnerable and a big, big target because she is an "unclassified" employee meaning that she can be fired without cause.
And, as the SCPR sees it, she got dismissed because of her ties to Swanson.
She says that she had no indication whatsoever during the eight plus months (February 4th through October 11th) she worked under Maier that anything was amiss in her job performance.
While Maier cannot touch those under employment protection (i.e. union contract and the like) at least in a direct sense, one wonders what kind of pressure he might be bringing (indirectly, of course) on the likes of Lou Darrow to step down.
When the Stark Dems chose a successor to Sheriff-elect Mike McDonald (election of November, 2012), who could not take office due to what turned out to be a final illness, Darrow (supported by the-then sheriff Tim Swanson) vigorously opposed Maier in a hotly contested February, 2013 meeting of the Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee.
It was a big time Stark County political fight when Maier with brother Maier, Jackson and Randy Gonzalez (current Stark County Democratic Party chairman) teamed up to put George over the top narrowly over Darrow.
The closeness of the intra-party fight shows that not everybody in the Stark County Democratic party loves and adores George Maier.
Sheriff Swanson certainly did not. He filed a lawsuit in Feburary with the Ohio Supreme Court in an effort to block Maier's continuance as sheriff.
Even before the Dems met, Darrow had filed a lawsuit with the high court to block the selection process itself.
George Maier's qualification under pertinent Ohio statutory law to serve as sheriff.
But apparently Stark County commissioner Tom Bernabei is enamored with Maier.
I have had a number of discussions with Bernabei about the sheriff and Commissioner Tom falls all over himself with accolades about Sheriff George.
I have had to pinch myself and say: "Is this the man, I know?"
Is this the same guy who as service director and chief-of-staff for Canton mayor William J. Healy, II (early on in the administration, before Healy had had enough and fired him) would berate the mayor for his foolhardy and ridiculous maneuvering as Canton's chief executive?
To boot, Bernabei is known to be the "watchdog-in-chief" about how Stark's departments of government are being run, including those whose head has their own elective political base.
Bernabei is known to jawbone peers of his with whom he disagrees.
So it is interesting that Bernabei seems somehow able to suspend his critical faculties when it comes to George T. Maier when such is not typical of his style of governing.
Credential-wise, in a de facto sense, (which is to say, perhaps, not meeting the de jure Ohio Revised Code statutory requirements [an issue currently being decided by the Ohio Supreme Court in Swanson's Quo Warranto action against Maier]), it does appear that Maier has impressive experience over many years of policing experience including considerable time with Ohio Highway Patrol rising (in a political context - during Democratic governor Ted Strickland's tenure) to second-in-command and - even - for a matter of a few days in the waning days of Strickland's term, to the top position.
My thinking is that experience and credential analysis is not complete enough to evaluate Maier on.
For me, it is critically important that a sheriff (though part of Ohio's election scheme of things) distance himself from politics as much as possible and still be able to get elected.
There is no doubt about it, it is a tough balancing act.
Judges in Ohio have the same problem.
The SCPR thinks that George T. Maier has way too many close connections with "the utterly political" and appears to be "too influenced by them" to strike the aforementioned balance.
Moreover, The Report questions his temperament.
There was a problem in terms of allegations of temperament allegations/issues when he was with the Ohio Highway Patrol and the SCPR has blogged about an incident with former Massillon streets and roads supervisor Michael Stevens (under the Cicchinelli administration; Stevens is also a Lawrence Township trustee) over campaign sign issues. An occurrence in which there appears to have been an "over-the-top" George T. Maier temper tantrum.
If Bernabei chooses to ignore Maier's full presentation (i.e. the political and temperament factors in addition to his de facto credentials), then I think, despite my overall well-regarding of Bernabei and his critical faculties; such is an example of this commissioner having a blind spot.
It would be one thing if Bernabei were to say "I have considered these factors and, on balance, I think he is the best that Stark County can come up with as sheriff."
But that is not his tone.
My take is that he thinks the political side and temperament of Maier factors are irrelevant.
A curious bit of thinking for a man who usually demonstrates a healthy skepticism, no?
I acknowledge that George T. Maier "on-the-face-of-it" from a policing experiencing standpoint seems to be a guy that is hard to beat in terms of prima facie qualifications.
Nonetheless, I come down on the side "I think we can do better" unless and until George addresses the political/temperament factors.
Because I am not an adorer of anybody (except for my wife); especially political types, the likes of George Maier will not talk to me.
I consider such to be a compliment. The SCPR does not shill for anyone.
Any public official or public figure who comes within the sights of the SCPR camera will get asked "uncomfortable" questions.
Soon the Ohio Supreme Court will make a decision one way or the other on Maier's fate.
One would think that he would proceed with prudence until the high court makes its decision.
The SCPR thinks he has not.
He reportedly has gone out and spent thousands of thousands of taxpayer dollars emblazoning George T. Maier on official property all which would likely be changed if the high court turns him out of office.
Now he has fired the department's chief legal counsel in the middle of contract negotiations with the deputies.
Vivianne Whalen Duffrin tells me that the completed captains, lieutenants, and sergeants contracts are her handiwork as chief negotiator.
These contracts were approved at the October 23rd regular weekly meeting of the Stark County commissioners.
If one listens closely to the following video, Brant Luther and Commissioner Bernabei subtly allude to the fact that Duffrin is no longer a part of the negotiation process. A point that I missed at the time.
At the conclusion of the meeting, I did ask questions of Commissioner Bernabei (and of sheriff department Human Resources person, namely, Teresa Wilson) as to the final cost/savings of the contracts.
We will not know until the deputies' contract is negotiated because the contracts' costs/savings will be based on "the financial base package" negotiated by the county (i.e. the sheriff's department) on behalf of Stark County taxpayers.
Well, guess who was "up to her eyeballs" in negotiating the deputies' contract until her dismissal on October 11th?
Vivianne Whalen Duffrin.
Asked if her summary dismissal and the concomitant disruption will delay the timetable for achieving a contract, Duffrin said she felt that it will.
One the most disconcerting things that has occurred in my examination of what I believe to have been a "political" firing of Duffrin, is the dissembling that I think that Commissioner Bernabei engaged in with me.
My take on his initial response to my question: "I heard that a meeting took place between you, Maier, Duffrin and Swanson and in the context of some sharp words she got fired" was that no such meeting took place.
The impression I got was that he knew nothing - as we spoke - of Duffrin being on the outside looking in.
As it turns out he did know.
He chose to stop on "the ceremony of the question itself" which is to say "the non-occurrence of the meeting itself."
In a follow-up with him after I had talked with Duffrin, he then tells me "Oh, I knew Duffrin was no longer legal counsel for the sheriff as of October 11th. I learned about it on my returning from my trip to Italy and I did meet with her afterwards to get the context of her dismissal from her perspective." (paraphrase)
From what he tells me, it seems that she gave him the same account as I got from her in my Saturday last interview.
As readers of the SCPR know, I think Commissioner Bernabei and Creighton have done a terrific job of restoring public confidence in the operations of county government since they were both elected in November, 2010 (Bernabei was reelected in November, 2012).
However, this incident with Bernabei and (as I see it) his getting hyper technical with me is noteworthy to me as to the fullness of his responses to questions in general when he knows he has information "highly" relevant to the line of inquiry.
It is likely that Maier and the commissioners wanted Duffrin's firing to be pass unnoticed.
The question is why?
All of which suggests to me that there is more to this story than the Stark County public is not being told.
And the dismissal of Duffrin occurring in the midst of contract negotiations that will impact all Stark County taxpayer wallets, positive or negative, sounds really odd.
To me, it was a pretty dumb thing on Maier's part to have Duffrin negotiate the captains, lieutenants and sergeants contracts when he had to know that he was about to axe her.
And what about the continuity rupture between the two contracts negotiated to finality and, probably, the most important one (the deputies contract) in terms of setting the standard for determining cost/savings to Stark County taxpayers.
Seems quite reckless to me.
If Maier is not retained in office (the Supreme Court decision is due any day now), where does that leave Stark County in terms of wrapping things up with the deputy sheriff contract and other matters under way in the department?
Bernabei tells me that the commissioners have asked their designated lawyer (David Bridenstine) to begin looking into their role, if any, in selecting a successor should the Supreme Court bounce Maier out of office.
In the light of the abrupt departure of Duffrin at a critical time and seemingly on a political basis, shouldn't Stark Countians be shaken in their confidence that Stark County officials (the sheriff and the commissioners [in their oversight function]) are operating in the best interest of Stark Countians?
While I retain a regard for Commissioner Bernabei, the Duffrin matter shows the that he will game you if it suits his purpose.
Such is shades of another Stark County politician that Commissioner Bernabei really, really does not like.