Cuyahoga County Council Tuesday introduced a proposal to change the sheriff from an appointed position back to an elected one.
Eight of 11 council members must support the change in order to send it to voters in November.
Republican Councilman Mike Gallagher long supported having the county executive appoint the sheriff. But now he wants voters to have that right, just as they did before county government changed from three commissioners to an executive nine years ago. Gallagher says it’s the only way to fix a department that’s in disarray.
“We have the untimely deaths in the jail. We have staffing issues. There’s a request to have the federal government intervene and take over the jail," Gallagher said. "I’m comfortable saying if we had an elected sheriff, the fixes would have already been done."
Nine inmates have died in custody in the past 12 months, the most recent on May 10. A grand jury indicted the former warden and two corrections officers in April. Last month, the former nursing director for the Cuyahoga County Jail filed a whistleblower lawsuit against County Executive Armond Budish, former jail director Ken Mills and others for First Amendment retaliation and liability for criminal acts. The current sheriff was not named in that suit.
The county has had four sheriffs in the nine years since the change from a board of commissioners and an elected sheriff to a county executive and an appointed sheriff.
Former Pepper Pike mayor Bruce Akers says returning to the past is not the solution. Akers was a Republican member of the group that drafted the current charter back in 2009. He says council members and the county executive both need keep a closer eye on the sheriff and his office.
"This is a case where the county council has to sit down with the county executive and say ‘Hey, we can’t have these suicides. We can’t have these bad reports from the state.' It’s a matter of the two branches working together to ensure the best person gets into that position, Akers said.
If the new proposal clears council, and gets the approval of voters, an election for sheriff would be held next year. In the meantime, Cuyahoga County would likely see at least one more appointed sheriff, as the current sheriff, Clifford Pinkney, is set to retire Aug. 2.
CORRECTION: This story previously mischaracterized the committee of which Bruce Akers was a part in 2009. It was originally described as a "charter review commission." More accurately, it was an ad hoc group of civic leaders that came together in 2009 to draft the charter, which voters then approved.