Stark County's current sheriff, Tim Swanson, will continue to serve the community for a bit longer than anticipated. Swanson was appointed Friday as interim sheriff following written notice, dated Jan. 3, by Sheriff-elect Michael McDonald, stating he is unable to take the position. Swanson's retirement was to take effect at midnight on Sunday, but he has agreed to fill the interim position for a period of five to 45 days, the length of time the Democratic Party has, by Ohio law, to choose a replacement for McDonald, who is a registered Democrat.
A special meeting was called by the commissioners on Friday for the purpose of making the interim sheriff appointment, and during the session Mike Hanke, county administrator, read the letter from McDonald, which stated due to a very recent change in his medical condition he was unable to assume the position.
"He would have made a tremendous sheriff, and we miss him. We wish Mike and his family only the best as they deal with this situation," said Commissioner Tom Bernabei.
Bernabei went on to say Swanson was probably the only person he is aware of that could fill the position on such short notice and could be immediately bonded, as he is currently bonded and that bond can be continued. This is urgent, Bernabei said, because Ohio law requires a new authority to swear in all the county's deputies at the start of a new term, and that process will begin at 5:30 a.m. on Monday.
"Sheriff Swanson is anxious to see his retirement commence. So, we're very, very appreciative of his offer to do this," said Bernabei.
A resolution to appoint Swanson as interim sheriff was approved unanimously, with no discussion, by a Republican-dominated board of commissioners, consisting of Bernabei, a Democrat, and Janet Weir Creighton and Richard Regula, both registered Republicans. Regula began his term on the board on Thursday, and the special meeting was his first formal meeting as commissioner since he was elected in November. A resolution was also approved unanimously to have bond issued for Swanson as follows: $94,691, an amount equal to the sheriff's salary for "the furtherance of justice"; $50,000 as a general bond; and $20,000 to cover sheriff department employees.
Before he was sworn in as interim sheriff, Swanson lauded the board of commissioners for acting quickly during these tragic circumstances, and he said he knew McDonald had every intention of taking office. "He's a strong one, and he's fighting. This is a whole new battle than anything he's faced before. I'm not able to divulge any of that information, but he would surely appreciate receiving your prayers for him and his family at this time," said Swanson.
Following the meeting, when questioned as to when he found out about McDonald's current illness, Swanson said he had been waiting for a decision from his doctor and didn't find out for sure until Thursday at 12:30 p.m. when he took the resignation letter to the hospital for McDonald to sign. "We have a couple hundred pieces of paper printed with Mike's name on them for the swearing-in process on Monday that we'll have to throw out now. So, I know for certain he planned on taking the position," said Swanson. When asked whether anyone had applied for the sheriff position yet, Swanson reported no one in the Democratic precinct had thrown their hat in the ring, as of yet. He said he will give his recommendation once it is determined who is in the running, and he believes his word will carry weight since he is the best person to know who would be the most qualified for the job.
Derrick Loy, Alliance precinct committee member with the Democratic Party, was in attendance at the meeting, and of the decision regarding Swanson's replacement, he said, "The enforcement of law should not be a partisan decision. It should be for the best qualified person."