By Ed Runyan
As challenger to 18-year incumbent Trumbull County Sheriff Thomas Altiere, James Phillips has repeatedly questioned Altiere’s professionalism and what he considers to be a morale problem with the sheriff’s department.
Phillips, who retired in 2009 after 36 years with the department, said in a recent interview that Altiere was once a good sheriff.
“But it’s like ... a steak knife. If you don’t use it, it gets dull,” Phillips said.
Chief among Phillips’ complaints is that Altiere’s management team consists of eight or so supervisors, and all but one works the day shift.
“The sheriff has 43 deputies. Twenty-five of those deputies are on day turn with weekends off, and that creates in my opinion ... a morale problem because you have a few officers doing the work of many.”
Phillips says only one of Altiere’s eight top administrators — assistant chiefs, captain, lieutenants, and major — work anything but day shift Monday through Friday.
If Altiere wanted to provide better service to taxpayers and improve morale within the sheriff’s office, he could move a couple of his managers to afternoons and midnights. As it is now, without a full complement of managers in those slots, a non-manager gets bonus pay for working a management job, Phillips said.
“People get tired of the unfairness. I believe I can correct it by being accountable, by making the work more equitable,” Phillips said. He adds that he believes the department had a large amount of call-offs in 2011, and the reason for it was low morale.
Altiere says he doesn’t believe there is a morale problem, first of all. And the union wouldn’t allow him to move managers from day shift to other shifts. He also doesn’t believe moving managers would provide better service or save money because someone would have to move to days to fill their position, Altiere said.
Altiere first raised the issue of family members among the two candidates, noting that Phillips has two sons working as corrections officers in the jail.
Phillips says that is true, but he never had anything to do with either of them getting hired. They both have college degrees, meaning they are well-qualified for the jobs, Phillips said.
As Phillips and others have pointed out, Altiere’s daughter-in-law works at the sheriff’s office. And as the sheriff has said before, she worked for the sheriff’s office before she married Altiere’s son.
Altiere’s daughter-in-law’s mother also works at the sheriff’s office as a receptionist, but Altiere said he doesn’t believe she qualifies as a relative. “I’ve never been to her house,” Altiere noted.
Phillips has said on multiple occasions that he has a higher level of honesty and integrity than Altiere. “I have a high level of that,” Phillips said, adding, “It should come automatically.”
Phillips has declined to discuss specifics on that topic.
Phillips said he retired in 2009 specifically so he could run for sheriff against Altiere and told Altiere that.
Altiere, 62, said this will be his last term as sheriff.
Phillips was chief of detectives for 15 years at the end of his time at the sheriff’s office.