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GOP commissioners say give Westmoreland sheriff some time

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held explains a new drug testing program for employees he wants to implement in the aftermath of the arrest of deputy Erika Ditch, 24, of Greensburg, during a press conference on Thursday April, 04, 2013 at the Westmoreland County Courthouse. Ditch and Leann Wechtenhiser, 24, of Derry were arrested on charges of possession with intent to deliver heroin.

Westmoreland County's two Republican commissioners say county Sheriff Jonathan Held should be given time to correct problems leading to a number of high-profile missteps by his office in recent months.

Neither commissioner Charles Anderson nor his GOP counterpart, Tyler Courtney, support Democratic commissioner Ted Kopas' call this week for Held's resignation.

“That was definitely a sole comment,” Courtney said of Kopas' position. “Jonathan is new to the office and we're trying to address the issues. There is poor management and he needs to be more cognizant of the issues.”

Anderson said Held should be given time to remedy the the problems in his office.

“I understand there have been hiccups along the way, but what has happened hasn't risen to that level (of resignation),” Anderson said.

Held said Kopas' position is purely political and he would “absolutely not” resign his post.

“Contrary to what Commissioner Kopas said, I'm doing a good job. Maybe that's why he wants me to resign, I'm doing too good of a job,” said Held, who is a Republican.

Kopas, the lone Democrat on the three-member panel, said months of turmoil in the sheriff's office, including the latest controversy about the purchase of expensive designer sunglasses and a recent disclosure that Held appeared in campaign ads for an Allegheny County council candidate, should cause Held to relinquish his post.

“I think it's time this guy consider resigning his position. He's lost the confidence of the commissioners and the trust of the taxpayers,” Kopas said.

Held has been at odds with the three county commissioners for the last several months over a series of issues including his decision, against the legal advice of the county solicitor, to drug test his administrative team.

The drug tests came in response to reports that three of Held's hires for the sheriff's department had criminal histories and that another member of his staff was arrested in Pittsburgh for a drug offense.

This spring, Held came under fire after another deputy lost a county-issued weapon during a training class last year.

Held was part of a lobbying effort earlier this year that sought unsuccessfully to have commissioners approve a resolution that would have given him authority to prevent enforcement of potential federal gun control legislation he deemed would circumvent the Second Amendment.

Just last week, Held was criticized after it was disclosed that 14 deputies in his office used part of their $450 annual uniform allowance to purchase $112 Oakley sunglasses.

Kopas this week blasted Held for appearing in campaign ads for failed Allegheny County Council Republican candidate Michael McMullin.

Held, with his back to the camera, can be seen in full uniform in the ads. He confirmed he was in the picture, but that he did not endorse McMullin and did not pose for the ads.

“It was me in a public setting,” Held said. “He got a phone call from me and I'm pretty upset it was used.”

Robert Caruso, executive director of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission, said it would appear no violations occurred.

“I don't think the ethics act would apply to that situation,” Caruso said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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