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10 in race for Westmoreland sheriff post

| Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 6:29 p.m.

Ten people want to become Westmoreland County's sheriff.

It is the first time the position, which pays $62,153 annually, has been vacant in more than a decade. Former sheriff Chris Scherer, elected in 1999, became a Westmoreland Common Pleas Court judge in 2009, and acting sheriff Charles "Chuck" Moore has decided to run for a vacant district judge post in Scottdale.

The May 17 primary field includes two retired state troopers, two sheriff's deputies, a former FBI agent, a chief deputy coroner, a former township supervisor, the president of a construction company, a constable and a juvenile detention center guard.

On the Democrat side, voters will choose among retired state troopers Paul McCommons of Unity and John Rock of Crabtree; chief deputy coroner Paul Cycak of Greensburg; deputy sheriffs Steve Felder of Penn Township and Rick Rodgers of South Greensburg; former Upper Burrell Supervisor Michael P. Conley; businessman Al Lonzo of Penn Township, and guard Harry Smail of Hempfield.

Republican voters will select from constable Jonathan Held of Murrysville and attorney and former FBI agent Wayne McGrew of Sewickley Township.

McCommons, who worked 32 years as a state trooper at Troop A in Greensburg, is the former president of the 7,000-member Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. He said his work on budgets, contract negotiations, in courts and with the state legislature qualifies him for the position.

"I miss law enforcement work. With my background and experience, I believe I can still be of service to the community," McCommons said.

Rock retired three years ago from the state police force, and had earned the rank of lieutenant. He worked as a patrol trooper, criminal investigator, supervisor and station commander in Somerset.

"I would be honored to have a hand in making our communities safer to live, work and raise families. I have the background and administrative experience, and I know I can do the job," he said.

Rock is a life member and former chief of the Crabtree Volunteer Fire Department and has spent his retirement presenting programs on personal safety to seniors.

"That's been a lot of fun and rewarding at the same time for me," he said.

Cycak said the fact that he spent 24 years in law enforcement as a Greensburg police officer -- before he became the county's chief deputy coroner nine years ago -- makes him qualified. He noted his work as store manager of Foodland in Hempfield and 29 years as a volunteer firefighter in Greensburg as unique qualifications.

"Not only do I have background in law enforcement, but working here in the county makes me aware of the budget process. I would dedicate myself to operating a good, dependable office," he said. "I've also worked in the private sector. I've always enjoyed being a public servant, listening to and attending to the needs of the public."

Felder said his 16 years of experience as a deputy sheriff, plus administrative experience as president of the Court Related and Court Appointed Employees Association of Westmoreland County, set him apart from the other candidates. The union represents about 275 county employees, including sheriff's deputies.

"I think my knowledge of the department, the procedures and processes and knowledge of the deputies would be beneficial," Felder said. "I believe the office has been doing a good job, but I would watch out to make sure tax dollars are expended properly."

Rodgers has been a deputy for 20 years and said that that experience would benefit county residents.

"I would like to implement a program to keep better track of Megan's Law violators and Internet child predators. I would also like to introduce programs into the school systems to make children more aware of their surroundings," Rogers said.

Conley, a lifelong resident of Upper Burrell, served as township supervisor for 14 years. He has helped to operate his family-owned Oak Lake Golf Course.

"I want to continue the exemplary work of former Sheriff Chris Scherer and acting Sheriff Chuck Moore. I've always wanted to try politics at a higher level, and when I learned they weren't running, I decided I better give it a try," Conley said.

"I want to continue the tradition of the community outreach programs of the sheriff's reserve," he added.

Conley is a 15-year member of the county sheriff's unit and an active member of the Upper Burrell Volunteer Fire Department. He is the former township emergency management coordinator.

Lonzo is president of AGL Enterprises Inc. in Wall and is commander of the sheriff's reserve unit, a volunteer service organization that provides public safety assistance where needed. He serves as vice chairman of the Penn Township Planning Commission.

"I've served 10 years with the specialty deputy reserve unit, and I believe it's a big asset and would like to see it continue. Chris and Chuck built a good organization, and I want to build on that," Lonzo said.

"Nothing against the other candidates, but with my business and management skills from running my own business, I think I would be a good fit. After you look at the whole picture, I believe it was the right time in life to do it," he said.

Smail is a guard at the county juvenile detention center and is board chairman of the Community Based Family Outreach Center, a nonprofit that deals with troubled youths. He is a former Hempfield Area school board director.

He said his goal is to operate the department within its budget and to "make available Pennsylvania state training and safety programs to sheriff's department employees and fulfill the needs of the court as mandated by state law."

Held has been an elected constable for 15 years.

"Because of my lengthy experience as a constable, and the fact that the duties of constable and sheriffs are so similar, I feel that I am the candidate that will serve the people the best," Held said.

Held said he would be a full-time sheriff.

McGrew, an attorney, worked as an FBI agent in New York City and an assistant district attorney in Westmoreland County.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to get back into law enforcement. I believe my experience gives me the necessary, well-rounded skills that would enable me to run the office," McGrew said.

McGrew described himself as a conservative and said his background in private enterprise shows he would run the office "in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner."

He was born and raised in Sewickley Township, where he and his wife built their home on the family farm. McGrew, his wife and her parents operate a small store.


-- Paul McCommons

Age: 69

Residence: Unity

Education: Associate degree in police administration, Penn State University

Family: Wife, Susan; two adult children

-- John Rock

Age: 56

Residence: Crabtree

Education: Associate degree, Penn Technical Institute in Pittsburgh; Pennsylvania State Police Academy

Family: Wife, Becky; two adult children

-- Paul Cycak

Age: 60

Residence: Greensburg

Education: Attended Duff's Business College; St. Vincent College

Family: Wife, Marilyn; one son

-- Steve Felder

Age: 47

Residence: Penn Township

Education: Greensburg Central Catholic High School; bachelor's degree in criminology and psychology, University of Pittsburgh

Family: Wife, Dawn; two daughters

-- Rick Rodgers

Age: 56

Residence: South Greensburg

Education: Greensburg Salem High School; bachelor's degree, Waynesburg University

Family: Wife, Susie; five children; three grandchildren

-- Michael P. Conley

Age: 47

Residence: Upper Burrell

Education: Burrell High School

Family: Wife, Jodi

-- Al Lonzo

Age: 57

Residence: Penn Township

Education: Trafford High School; Army Missile and Munitions Center; DeVry Institute of Technology; IBEW Local No. 5 electrician journeyman program

Family: Wife, Mary, five children.

-- Harry Smail

Age: 67

Residence: Hempfield Township

Education: Graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania-California University Police Academy

Family: Not provided

-- Jonathan Held

Age: 37

Residence: Unity Township

Education: Bachelor's degree in molecular biology, University of Pittsburgh

Family: Wife, Melissa; three children

-- Wayne McGrew

Age: 43

Residence: Sewickley Township

Education: Bachelor's degree in finance, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; FBI Academy, Quantico, Va.; law degree, Ohio Northern University

Family: Wife, Larissa

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