Columbiana officials discuss county offer for drug task force

COLUMBIANA- For 17 years the city paid the full-time salary of its own sergeant on the county drug task force (DTF) and received very little in return, Police Chief Tim Gladis said.

That’s why, shortly after he was hired as chief in 2009, he pulled the sergeant from the force, and the department hasn’t participated since then.

Gladis said he isn’t against DTF participation, but wants to have some questions answered before making any recommendations.

He did tell council Tuesday evening the incentive county commissioners are offering to cities and villages to boost participation is “fair.”

Commissioners are offering $10,000 to those willing to put an officer on part-time and $20,000 a year to those willing to go full-time.

The money is available as a result of revenue received from Ohio’s first casinos.

Councilmen Tom Ferguson, Lowell Schloneger and James King agreed the city didn’t get much benefit out of the prior participation.

“The council that was up here at that time, we didn’t feel that the accountability of the officer was presented to us,” Ferguson said.

Schloneger agreed. “We didn’t get any reports. We didn’t even know if the person went to work,” he said.

Gladis said he pulled the sergeant from the DTF mostly for financial reasons. “He was a great guy, a good agent,” he said.

It just didn’t make sense to pay a full-time salary plus benefits to an officer who wasn’t reaping many benefits for the local department, he explained.

“It’s completely unwise to dedicate a highly paid senior position (to the DTF). That’s a young man’s game, let’s face it,” he said.

Should council decide to put a lower paid officer on the force part-time, the $10,000 received from commissioners would still only pay about half of his or her salary, he added.

Despite that fact, the incentive is “the best deal I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” he said.

Councilman Bryan Blakeman was concerned that if the city didn’t take advantage of the incentive, commissioners may not consider them for incentives in the future.

“If we don’t participate in those things their perception of working with us may not be at the top of the list,” he said.

Again, Gladis noted he isn’t totally against participation, but feels there are some areas that could be improved.

“It’s a little bit loosely run,” he said.

He also said he wants to know how aggressive they plan to be on asset forfeiture and seizure. He believes anything found to be connected to illegal drug activity should be seized, including cars and property.

“In Salem you can see on the (police cruisers), ‘This car purchased with seized drug money,’” he said.

Schloneger said Salem receives “huge amounts of money each year” through the seizures.

The Salem department has police presence on both the Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force and county DTF. “The DEA outfit running this area is a crack team. They are very, very good,” Gladis said.

The Columbiana department does not have an officer on the DEA task force.