Taylor, Smith Vying For Potential Appointment As Athens County Sheriff

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With the withdrawal of one contender, the potential selection of an interim Athens County sheriff appears to be focusing on two candidates — Jack Taylor and Rodney Smith.

On Thursday, Smith filed a letter of interest and two-page resume with Athens County Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Hecht. Earlier, Taylor had filed with Hecht a 1 1/2-inch thick binder that included a resume, training certificates, job evaluations and other documents.

A special commission appointed by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is considering whether Sheriff Patrick Kelly should be suspended while a criminal case is pending against him. If that happens, the Athens County Democratic Central Committee would appoint an interim sheriff.

As of Friday afternoon, there was no indication that the commission had made its preliminary determination on the suspension, although it has until Tuesday to do so. If a preliminary determination is made in favor of a suspension, Kelly could contest it and the suspension would not go into effect immediately.

Last week, The Messenger reported that David Malawista had withdrawn his name from consideration for the possible interim appointment. Malawista said a local attorney he consulted advised him that he did not meet the legal qualifications for the appointment because his work as an auxiliary Athens police officer did not qualify as full-time employment as a law enforcement officer.

As of Friday afternoon, Smith and Taylor were the only people who still had paperwork with Hecht seeking the appointment. Taylor is a lieutenant detective with the sheriff’s office. Smith retired from the sheriff’s office last year as a lieutenant.

The Messenger spoke with both men about the appointment.

“I really think, when or if (the suspension happens), I think we could make a positive change, put a positive light on the sheriff’s office,” Smith said of why he would want the appointment.

Smith said he is a proponent of community policing.

“I would like to have meetings in the different communities to better identify what their problems are, so we can address them,” Smith said, adding that he also would have deputies patrolling more in the communities and on county roads, placing less emphasis on major highways.

Smith also said he would like to see the county be part of a major crimes task force to help deal with the drug problem and property crimes.

Taylor said he’s seen both the good and the bad of participating in task forces, and if he were to become sheriff he would talk with the leaders of other law enforcement agencies and evaluate whether participation would benefit Athens County. That type of decision, though, would only happened if the sheriff’s position became vacant and he actually became sheriff, not while he served in an interim capacity during a suspension of Kelly, Taylor said.

Major changes should not be implemented by an interm sheriff, Taylor said, because those could be undone if Kelly were reinstated. He said the role of the interim sheriff is to ensure that day-to-day operations are running smoothly, but said if he is appointed he will evaluate each facet of the sheriff’s office.

“I’m a leader in the department, and I want to continue to be a leader,” Taylor said.

In the information provided to the Democratic Party, Taylor points out that because his $56,000 salary is already budgeted, appointing him sheriff would only cost the county an additional $13,000.

Kelly would continue to be paid if suspended, but the person appointed also would be entitled to the sheriff’s salary.

Both Smith and Taylor said that if they are appointed interim sheriff, they would be a candidate the next time the sheriff’s job is on the ballot.

Smith, a graduate of Federal Hocking High School, became an Athens County deputy sheriff in 1988, later becoming a sergeant and serving as a lieutenant from 2001 to 2013. Prior to becoming a deputy, he was a corrections officer in 1987-1988.

Taylor, who has an associate degree in police science, is retired from a 20-year career in the military, including active duty in the National Guard. He was a member of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office from 1978-1982, and has been with the Athens County Sheriff’s Office since 1994, serving as an environmental deputy sheriff, deputy sheriff, senior detective and now detective lieutenant in charge of the detective division.