Mahoning County’s new sheriff takes office in a different era

When Jerry Greene was sworn in Saturday as sheriff of Mahoning County, long-time watchers of the area’s politics had to have been struck by the difference between this ceremony and the one in 1999 when Randall Wellington took office.

Then, Wellington, former Youngstown police chief, inherited a department that had become a den of corruption under mobbed up Sheriff Phil Chance. Chance wound up serving time in prison for accepting bribes from organized crime figures, led by mob boss Lenine Strollo.

Wellington, one of the most honest lawmen in the history of the Mahoning Valley and a confidante of the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department, had to first and foremost restore public trust and confidence. Then, he had the unenviable task of building staff morale, especially among the frontline deputies. Greene was a member of the force and readily admits that before Wellington took office, he and others had to live with the shame of being led by Chance. The public viewed the sheriff’s department during those dark days with suspicion — bordering on disdain.

A tradition to uphold

Wellington, who retired Monday after more than a half-century in law enforcement, has left a legacy of integrity, honesty and hard work. The stench of putrid politics that emanated from Chance’s tenure has gone.

Greene was a captain when announced his plans to run for sheriff, after Wellington decided not to seek another term. Greene gave up his captain’s position, was appointed director of support services, a non-classified post, won the 2012 Democratic Party primary, and was unopposed in the general election.

He is unyielding in praise of his predecessor, whom he describes as his mentor.

In our endorsement of Greene for the Democratic nomination, we expressed concern that having someone from the inside take over the top job could give rise to an unhealthy work environment in which favoritism rather than performance was the rule.

He assured us that he intended to run the department by the book and would not hesitate to make personnel and other changes if they would improve the cost effectiveness and efficiency of the operation.

The sheriff also stoutly defended his appointment of veteran employees to his command staff.

“This isn’t based on friendship or anything other than making the sheriff’s department a better place,” he told The Vindicator. “They’re the best in the field, in my opinion. They bring a wealth of experience and a wealth of knowledge.”

Given the challenges confronting the sheriff’s department, foremost of which is to find enough money to fully staff the jail and the facility for misdemeanants, Greene will need his command staff to be on top of their game.

For their part, Commander Thomas Assion, and majors Jeffrey Allen, Alki Santamas and William Cappabianca must know their every action will be closely monitored and whatever they do in and outside the department will reflect on the sheriff.

Former Sheriff Wellington restored the credibility of the department. Sheriff Greene has the chance to build on that.

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