Who’s next in line after troubled Westmoreland sheriff?
As embattled Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held maintains he won't resign , officials say they aren't sure who is in line to replace him should the position become vacant.
The state Attorney General's Office this week charged Held , a two-term incumbent, with crimes related to allegations that he used public resources and staff for campaign purposes since 2015.
A day later, Held resumed his duties running the department that handles courtroom security, transports prisoners and serves arrest warrants with a staff of 54 full-time deputies and office workers as well as 19 part-timers. The department has an annual budget of $5.5 million.
Under state law, Held's chief deputy, Patricia Fritz, would become the county's acting sheriff should he step down, be removed from office or take a leave of absence.
But Fritz took an indefinite medical leave in February after she claimed she was inappropriately touched and harassed by an assistant county solicitor who is investigating racial discrimination claims made against her by sheriff deputies and unsuccessful job applicants.
With Held's future in limbo and Fritz off the job, county leaders said there is no clear answer as to who would come next in the line of succession.
“If that issue comes up, we will address it,” said Melissa Guiddy, county solicitor.
The governor would be responsible for appointing a permanent replacement for the sheriff, she said. The appointment would have to be confirmed by the state Senate. Until an appointment is made and confirmed, the chief deputy would serve as acting sheriff, she said.
Held said this week that he has not appointed an acting chief deputy in the wake of Fritz's leave. Next in line in the department's chain of command would be captain, but that position has been vacant since January.
County Controller Jeffrey Balzer said Held last month sought to abolish the captain's job and use the money saved to give Fritz a $10,000 raise and provide $5,000 raises to two lieutenants who round out the department's top management team.
“It was never acted upon,” Balzer said of Held's proposal to the county's salary board, which includes the three county commissioners and the controller.
In a letter to salary board members, Held said the proposed restructuring would compensate his management staff for additional work and save taxpayers more than $34,000 annually.
“Another issue that has brought about this request is the fact that due to arbitration awards, union members are now paid a higher annual rate than members of management,” Held wrote.
Fritz, 63, of Mt. Pleasant was hired as a part-time deputy sheriff in 2010. Held, who first took office two years later, promoted her to chief deputy in 2014. She earns more than $42,000 annually.
The commissioners last month hired two outside law firms to investigate civil rights allegations brought against Fritz as well as her complaint that she was harassed.
Held is scheduled to appear in court March 15 for a preliminary hearing on his criminal charges.
Agents contend Held ordered sheriff's department staff to perform campaign functions while on duty. Witnesses said Held had them collect items for campaign fundraisers and use public records, including a federal firearms database, to identify potential donors.
Deputies and staff were directed to make campaign solicitation calls from their desks in the courthouse and travel to local gun shops in county-issued marked sheriff's cars to collect items, agents said.
Held denies the allegations and maintains the accusations were made by disgruntled employees.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]