Westmoreland sheriff candidates weigh in on office, what changes they’d bring if elected
Three Republicans are seeking to oust two-incumbent Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held in the May 21 primary.
Held is being challenged by two current deputies Steve Felder, 55, of Penn Township, and Sam Pilato, 56, of Hempfield; and retired police officer Eugene Zulisky, 52, of Greensburg. Democrat James Albert, a retired district judge, is unopposed in the primary.
The Tribune-Review asked each candidate to answer the following questions:
What is your view of the current operation of the sheriff’s department? What changes or improvements would you endorse if elected?
“The current operation of the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office is good. Under my administration, we have come under budget all seven years, saving the taxpayers over $2 million. We have also had nine clean audits, to the penny. We have accomplished these milestones while fighting the drug epidemic that has swept through our county and strained budgets, in addition to taking precious lives.
“My plans for the future of the sheriff’s office are to continue to be fiscally efficient, while taking care of the business of the office. Changes and improvements are the reason for a large part of the bad publicity for the office. Some government employees, especially government union employees, do not like change. It is no surprise that all three Republican challengers are cardholding members of government unions. One of them is a witness against me, and another was registered Democrat until October of 2008. It is also no surprise that the Democrat challenger is an entrenched, retired, government official, who has advertised “pro-union” as one of his key campaign slogans.
“I had no say in the litigation process of any of the lawsuits against this office. The current county commissioners chose to pay out large sums of money without even one person going under oath. To my constituents: I am a non-union outsider that you hired twice to improve the sheriff’s office. In order to make improvements to this office, I have needed to implement accountability and new ways of thinking. The ideas and structure have not sat well with some of the government union employees. If re-elected, I will continue to work for the people and not any other entity.”
“The current operation of the sheriff’s department is lacking strong leadership, which hinders the ability of the department to successfully fulfill the day-to-day operations and duties of the sheriff’s department and affects our deputies’ ability to do their jobs efficiently, effectively and safely. With my experience and good-working relationship with other law enforcement agencies, as well as my fellow deputies, I am ready to serve Westmoreland County as the new sheriff.
“The changes and improvements to the sheriff’s department that I would endorse if elected are: Restore order and integrity to the sheriff’s office with experience and proven leadership. To work with Westmoreland County to implement an electronic filing system for the sheriff’s department, such as Teleosoft, that will make document processing and office administration more efficient in all aspects of the department, as well as to provide cost savings to the taxpayers. I will also focus on working cooperatively with local, state and federal agencies to combat the opioid and crystal meth drug epidemic that has affected so many good families in our county.”
“My view of the sheriff’s department is that we are lacking in quality leadership and we also have issues with safety and training. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, the first order of business would be to assemble a qualified, competent and trustworthy leadership team. This team, along with myself, will observe and evaluate all functions of the department and duties of the deputies for an ample amount of time. Then, and only then, will any changes in procedures and or reassigning of duties be made.
“All of these necessary adjustments will only be made with the betterment of the deputies’ responsibilities and efficiency of the department in mind. The leadership team will appoint deputies to supervisory positions and then allow them to do their jobs. In closing, I would like to say that the leadership team and myself will work hard every day to better ourselves and lead by example by striving to simply do the right things. Only then can we ask the deputies and staff to better themselves and focus in one direction toward set goals that will make our department not good but great.”
“I think we all can agree that our sheriff’s department has some issues. My goal is to rectify the issues and move it forward. Unfortunately, with all the backstabbing and undermining within the sheriff’s department, the only way it can move forward is with a clean, fresh start. It will take a good team and time. I have the experience, education, knowledge and desire to create the team to move it forward.
“I’m already working with several police departments in Westmoreland County to create an operational and procedural plan to give the taxpayers a much more efficient and effective sheriff’s department. Our goal will be to improve the quality of life in our communities.”
“The problem starts at the top. The office staff is demoralized and split into factions. There are 44 deputies and 16 office workers that require leadership to bring toughness, compassion, common sense and fairness. I was a deputy sheriff for eight years, and the office was respected. There was unity. That was due to the excellent leadership. I will replace the criminal activity and turmoil with a proven record of lawful, honorable and ethical behavior.
“A sheriff must have management personnel with law enforcement backgrounds in place. As a deputy, I worked in all divisions of the office, from courtroom security, warrant service, transport of defendants, and extraditions of prisoners from all over this country. We must have great training and updates for all employees in the sheriff’s office. I plan to lead by example, as I have always done.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .