Budish Pushes Back On Cuyahoga County Council Call For Sheriff's Autonomy
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish is pushing back against a proposal from county council that would limit the county executive’s influence over the county sheriff.
County council is considering changes to the ordinance that defines the obligations of the county sheriff, including removing language that says the Cuyahoga County sheriff employs and supervises department staff “with the approval of the county executive.”
The proposed changes come after conflicting interpretations of the law from the council and Budish during the last month’s confirmation hearing for a new sheriff, Christopher Viland.
“The Council’s proposed changes to the ordinance concerning the sheriff are, at the very least, unworkable and impractical, and may be unconstitutional,” Budish said in a Wednesday statement.
Council is arguing the sheriff should be able to operate independently of the county executive and come to council to address any issues. But Budish says executive oversight is needed to address problems as they arise at the jail.
The county chief of staff and chief of public safety have worked closely with the sheriff in the past year to address jail issues, Budish said, including overcrowding and the threat of a coronavirus outbreak.
“The blame would go to the executive, but the executive would have no power to provide more training or provide more resources, because this proposal would take all the authority away from the executive,” Budish told ideastream Wednesday.
County officials have worked closely with the sheriff to enact necessary changes over the last year, Budish said, including bringing down the jail population during the pandemic and hiring additional staff.
“The jail is probably one of the better ones in the state right now,” Budish said. “We’ve made huge improvements.”
Efforts to change the responsibilities and obligations of the county sheriff follow criticisms and problems at the county jail in recent years, including a slew of lawsuits, multiple deaths and a scathing report by the U.S. Marshals office on the jail’s conditions – after which former Sheriff Clifford Pinkney told council he wasn’t involved in decisions at the facility, including the hiring of jail administrator Ken Mills or the launch of an investigation into former warden Eric Ivey.
After the hearings with Pinkney, council considered moving to an elected sheriff, but instead put a charter amendment on the ballot in 2019 that gave the sheriff hiring authority at the jail and county council authority over the sheriff.
County Council already made changes to prevent a county executive from removing a sheriff, Budish said, which he went along with as a compromise. But the additional change would be unworkable and impractical for the county, he said.
“It seems to be working well right now. I don’t know why there’s the urge to change things,” Budish said. “This proposal would encroach on the executive branch by the legislative branch, and that’s why I believe it’s unconstitutional as well.”
The county executive needs to have the ability to intervene, Budish said, including requiring training or discipline in cases of excessive force, efforts to reduce the jail population during periods of overcrowding.
“The only way to create a totally independent sheriff is to make the position elected. While that would be better than Council’s proposal, it would be a step backward from the county reform adopted by the voters,” Budish said. “The current structure works. We have an excellent candidate waiting to start his job.”
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