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Election 2019: Cuyahoga County Sheriff Will Get More Authority, Autonomy

A Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office cruiser. [Seluryar / Flickr]
A Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office cruiser.

Cuyahoga County voters overwhelmingly decided to give future sheriffs more autonomy from the county executive, redefining the appointed sheriff’s power and duties — and the process to remove someone from that post.

The Nov. 5 tally was nearly 75 percent — or more than 148,000 votes — in favor of Issue 6, an amendment to the county charter that will:

  • Require the county council’s approval when the executive appoints or reappoints a sheriff;
  • Stagger the sheriff’s four-year term with the county executive’s term;
  • Require a public hearing before a sheriff can be fired;
  • Require a supermajority of eight out of the 11 county council members to agree on firing a sheriff after such a hearing;
  • Grant the sheriff final authority on department staffing; and
  • Require the sheriff to have a degree in criminal justice or law enforcement and to get special training or continuing education certification in corrections or jail management within one year of being appointed.

The charter amendment proposal came after a string of inmate deaths and lawsuits related to the troubled Cuyahoga County Jail and testimony from the outgoing sheriff that he was powerless to make much-needed changes.

Then-sheriff Clifford Pinkney told county council members in July that he had little say in major decisions at the county jail as the inmate population rose, deaths mounted and investigators launched probes into conditions there. Pinkney portrayed himself as left out of key decisions by Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish’s administration on consolidating local jails under county control and hiring the jail director.

Pinkney, who was already set to retire days after the hearing, appeared before county council under an unprecedented subpoena demanding answers about the troubled jail system. He and his attorney had declined to answer questions at an earlier hearing.

Council President Dan Brady in July drafted a competing proposal that would have returned the sheriff to an elected position, but that failed to make it out of committee.

Cuyahoga County has had four sheriffs in the nine years since voters replaced the board of commissioners and an elected sheriff with a county executive and an appointed sheriff.

Sgt. David G. Schilling, Jr. took over as acting sheriff Aug. 5, following Pinkney’s retirement.