Thursday, November 03, 2005

Editorial: Herb Ohliger for county sheriff / Only the voters can clean out a corrupt office

Must reading for voters of Allegheny County. The Post-Gazette endorsement for the sheriff's office, a vote on November 8.
Editorial: Herb Ohliger for county sheriff / Only the voters can clean out a corrupt office Editorial: Herb Ohliger for county sheriff / Only the voters can clean out a corrupt office

Allegheny County voters face a crucial choice for sheriff next Tuesday. Although the race has some of the typical markings of campaigns past -- a well-known, deep-pocketed Democrat challenged by an underfunded upstart Republican -- much is different in 2005.

Sheriff Pete DeFazio's office has been under federal investigation since January for macing, abuse of power and other illegal activity.

Sheriff DeFazio, who is seeking his third four-year term and has worked in the office for 35 years, was called as a witness but, incredibly, invoked the Fifth Amendment to protect against self-incrimination. His executive assistant and one of his sergeants also took the Fifth.

Sheriff's Capt. Frank Schiralli was found guilty of perjury for telling a grand jury that he never kept lists of deputies who bought tickets for political fund-raisers for Sheriff DeFazio.

Sheriff DeFazio's employees testified that his commanders pressured them -- with implied threats about their jobs -- to buy tickets, some costing hundreds of dollars, for the sheriff's Mother's Day brunch, golf outing and other political events.

Sheriff DeFazio's deputies did landscaping work on county time at the home of his chief deputy.

Sheriff DeFazio has been a budget buster, off and on, and has routinely spent beyond his limit. Part of the reason is that he has sought to enlarge the scope of the sheriff's office beyond its core functions of securing the courthouse, moving prisoners and serving court papers.

It's a wonder, with this shameful litany and an investigation still in full throttle, that Pete DeFazio, 56, chose to run for re-election at all. Although the Post-Gazette advocated, unsuccessfully, that the sheriff be among the county row offices that the public voted to consolidate under appointed managers, the county Democratic hierarchy wanted to keep it elected and autonomous. Given all of the political activity recently revealed there, to support not only the sheriff but also other Democratic candidates, it's no surprise that the party felt a need to protect this fund-raising outpost.

On Nov. 8, however, county voters can impose reform -- by voting for challenger Herb Ohliger.

A Republican from Scott, Mr. Ohliger, 45, owns an information-system consulting business that specializes in security. He worked in Iraq for the federal government in July and August to train Iraqis in various security methods.

Though he served the public for two years while filling a vacancy on the township commission, he does not deny his lack of experience as a sheriff's deputy. He sees the role of sheriff as manager, and a job that, at the moment, is being mismanaged.

"I don't think the county sheriff should be fleecing his employees," he said. "There shouldn't be 300 people out there with honorary sheriff's badges, and he needs to meet his budget." He also said the sheriff should be consolidating the office and preparing it for merger with the county police, under the appointed police chief.

Herb Ohliger, who has earned the Post-Gazette endorsement, deserves not only strong support from his party in the final week, but also the votes of everyone who goes to the polls next Tuesday. "This is not Pete's government or my government," he said, "but the people's government" -- words not suited to the kind of sheriff's office being revealed by federal prosecutors.
I know Herb from running in political circles. He is trustworthy and direct. He is a good guy who is easy to read and would be able to manage the department and all the dealings there with a frank, calm, reasoned authority. We are very fortunate to have him step up to meet the challenge and run for this position.

Sadly, but as expected, DeFazio is not going to debate the challenger. DeFazio in a debate with a worthy opponent would be a real sight to see -- and something that should be on WQED.

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