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Cuyahoga Co. Sheriff's resignation reignites calls for position to be elected

Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office Logo.jpg
Posted at 6:01 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 20:24:48-04

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio — Of the 88 counties in Ohio, Cuyahoga County is the only one without an elected sheriff. The recent resignation announcementfrom current Cuyahoga County Sheriff Christopher Viland reignited a push to give voters the final say in who leads the county’s law enforcement.

“If someone actually has to put time, energy, resources in to obtain that position, once you’ve had to fight for it, I think you’re a lot less likely to give it up or turn around when things get rough,” said Colin Sikon, the business agent with Laborers Local 860, the union representing around 600 Cuyahoga County deputies.

Viland’s resignation letter submitted Friday, April 29 noted he would be using accrued leave to attend to personal and medical issues. A county spokesperson also cited “personal reasons” for the departure.

Both Sikon and the union representing Cuyahoga County corrections officers said they were shocked by the resignation.

“We didn’t agree with him on everything. But he was doing the right thing, he was making some progress, he understood what mattered to employees and he was really trying to achieve something,” said Adam Chaloupka, the general counsel for the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (OPBA).

Viland’s exit after a year on the job comes as the county tries to address issues at the county jail, and continues what some have called a revolving door at the sheriff’s office.

Clifford Pickney served as sheriff from 2015 until 2019 when he resigned. He was replaced by David Schilling, who served just over a year before retiring.

Following that, Cuyahoga County County Executive Armond Budish appointed Joseph Greiner, a lieutenant with the sheriff's office, to serve as interim sheriff.

Viland was then tapped by Budish in January 2021 to become sheriff.

Some blame the turnover on the structure of the county government and the bureaucracy they say limits the county sheriff’s authority. Since 2010, the sheriff has been an appointed position under the county executive.

In 2019, voters approved a ballot measure to amend the county charter to give the county council final approval of sheriff candidates recommended by the county executive. It was intended to bolster council oversight, expand training and education requirements and limit the county executive’s control over the sheriff’s position.

“We believe them when they say that they weigh [the sheriff’s] opinion, but he’s not signing off on anything,” said Chaloupka. “The sheriff’s office is in the Justice Center, but in my opinion, the real decision-makers are down at East 9th and Prospect.”

Others say the high turnover contributes to low morale.

“It’s really hard to have good morale when you embrace a change, or even grudgingly go with a change, just to find out the person who instituted it is gone in the wind and you don’t know if it’s going to stand or the next sheriff is going to change things all over again,” Sikon said.

Both candidates vying for the county executive position in the upcoming general election agree something needs to change in order to address the troubled jail and revolving door of sheriffs in the county.

Republican candidate Lee Weingart is in favor of returning the sheriff’s position to an elected one.

“If someone dies during the sheriff’s watch, he or she will have to explain to the voters when he or she seeks re-election why that person died in the county jail. That creates a safer jail and a safer county for all of us,” Weingart explained.

Democratic candidate Chris Ronayne said he would entertain the idea of elected sheriffs, but wants to first weigh all options.

“We should do a full charter review and we should do that in concert with the people of Cuyahoga County and get down to the bottom of this,” Ronayne said. “Is this a structural problem? Is this a management problem? Is this an issue we should put back on the ballot?”

Another 2019 proposal would have returned the sheriff to a publicly elected role, but the measure never made it to the ballot.

Viland plans to leave the sheriff’s department by May 22. The county said the county executive and county council are working on an interim replacement. A spokesperson told News 5 there is no timeline for when an interim would be named and said the process is there for anyone interested in changing how the sheriff’s department operates.

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