By Peter H. Milliken
A current township police chief, a former city police chief and a career sheriff’s office supervisor are running for Mahoning County sheriff in the Democratic primary March 6.
All three candidates for the $94,691-a-year post say they’d bring a wealth of law-enforcement experience to the sheriff’s position.
The candidates are Jerry Greene, director of support services at the sheriff’s office; Jimmy Hughes, who rose through the ranks and retired last year as Youngstown police chief; and Brian Goodin, Poland Township police chief since June 2004.
Greene’s candidacy is bolstered by his having received the endorsement of the county Democratic Party and of Sheriff Randall A. Wellington, who is not seeking re-election, and by having a $106,720 campaign war chest, which is more than double that of any other candidate for county office.
“I’ve been mostly a jailer my entire career,” said Greene, adding that operating the county jail is the sheriff’s primary responsibility.
Greene joined the sheriff’s department as a deputy in 1989 and was promoted to sergeant in July 2003 and directly to captain in May 2007, bypassing the rank of lieutenant.
After Wellington announced he wasn’t seeking re-election and Greene became a candidate for sheriff, Wellington appoint- ed Greene director of support services last fall to succeed Alki Santamas, who assumed the rank of major in the sheriff’s office.
In his role as support-services director, Greene oversees food and medical services, alcohol and drug treatment, and General Educational Development programing within the jail, he said.
Greene emphasized his experience in administering jail and court security in his 23 years at the sheriff’s office.
He said his top priority is ensuring sufficient funding to fully open and adequately staff the county jail, where two prisoner housing units are now closed and 23 deputies remain on layoff.
“A jail that has 211 beds empty in it is going to increase crime. It has to,” Greene said. “What bigger responsibility do the [county] commissioners have than the public safety?”
“We want to stay constitutional” in jail operations through adequate staffing and avoidance of overcrowding to maintain safety and avoid another federal lawsuit by prisoners, Greene added.
The jail was under federal court supervision through May 2010 after inmates won a 2003 lawsuit in which they said the jail was unconstitutionally overcrowded.
Wellington requested a $19.6 million budget for this year, but the county commissioners allotted only $14.1 million.
Hughes said he successfully administered the city police department under a $16 million annual budget during financially challenging times. “I didn’t go over my budget, and I worked within my budget,” he added.
“Homicide rates went down every year that I was chief of police,” Hughes said. “We were able to successfully remove from the corners our sellers” of drugs during his tenure as police chief, he added.
Acknowledging that the demeanor of his office was informal while he was police chief, Hughes said he was keeping himself accessible to his staff, city council members, the public and the media to discuss police business.
Hughes said he held his staff accountable for their job performance and suspended or fired police officers when their misconduct warranted it. He said he suspended or fired more police officers than previous city police chiefs, except for Wellington.
“It’s a continuation and not a new career,” Hughes said of his pursuit of the sheriff’s position. “I have the passion” for law enforcement, he added.
“I need about 25,000 votes to win this race,” Hughes said. “Jerry Greene’s got a ton of money, and the rest of us don’t,” he added.
The former city police chief said he is sensitive to the financial plight of the sheriff’s office, where deputies, who successfully campaigned for passage of county sales taxes that fund jail operations, suffered pay cuts, furlough days and layoffs.
“My professionalism, my respect and my ability to manage money and to lead a professional police department is what I can bring to the sheriff’s department,” Goodin said.
Among Goodin’s goals are opening the entire main jail and reopening the minimum-security jail and recalling as many deputies from layoff as possible.
He said he’ll seek the return of revenue-generating federal prisoners to the county jail, while still leaving enough room for local offenders who need to be jailed.
He added that he’ll try to capture for the sheriff’s office as much forfeiture money and property as possible from the ill-gotten gains of criminals.
“A lot of the people that are in the county jail are drug-related. There’s a lot of seizures that we should be going after of their homes and their cars,” if those possessions are ill-gotten gains from the drug trade, he said.
Goodin said the sheriff’s department must maintain rural road patrols, and that he also hopes some deputies can be made available for “saturation patrols of high-crime areas.”
He added: “If we reduce the crime, hopefully, we won’t need all those beds filled all the time” in the county jail.
In addition to being Poland Township police chief, Goodin owns a lawn-care business, which he said has about 20 customers and which he said another family member might take over if he is elected sheriff.
Goodin said most of his lawn-care customers hire him for that service without knowing of his law-enforcement position and find out later by word-of-mouth or on TV that he’s a police chief. “I don’t use my position to influence anything,” he said, adding that he has been in the lawn-care business for 18 years.
Hughes and Greene do not own private businesses.
Goodin said he is in compliance with the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits civil servants paid from, or supervising the spending of, federal funds from running for political office because a federal bullet-proof vest purchase grant for township police expired before he became a candidate for sheriff.
Greene said he, too, is in compliance with the Hatch Act because he does not supervise sheriff’s patrol or sex-offender registration activities that are funded by federal grants. He also noted that there are no federal inmates currently housed in the county jail.
Goodin and Greene said no portion of their salaries is paid for by federal funds.
One issue that has loomed large in the sheriff’s race is Wellington’s decision to terminate video arraignments from the county jail, which were a nonmandated sheriff’s office service, to free up deputies for other tasks within the jail.
Greene initially said he supported the sheriff’s decision, but, in a later interview, he said he would have tried to get the now-dormant county criminal-justice working group to find a way to preserve video arraignments from the jail.
That group is a collaborative panel consisting of court and law-enforcement personnel, which was established several years ago to find solutions to problems facing the county’s criminal justice system, including jail crowding.
If elected, Hughes and Goodin said they’d reinstate video arraignments within the jail.
Hughes said preparing county jail inmates for transport by city police to the former city jail for municipal court arraignments and then processing them back into county jail afterward is more time-consuming than keeping inmates inside the county jail and video-arraigning them inside it.
“I would do them myself if I had to,” Goodin said of video arraignments. “I’m all about safety” of the public and law-enforcement personnel, Goodin said. Inmate transport is a risky task that should be minimized, he added.