Editorâ€™s note: Earlier this year, The Gazette conducted an informal survey of community and government leaders and asked them who they thought were the most influential people in Medina County. We narrowed the list down to 10 based on the number of votes each received, with No. 1 garnering the most. In the following days, we will feature each influential person as we count down to No. 1.
By MARIA KACIK
Sheriff Neil Hassinger has made his Medina office a second home.
Scenic paintings line the walls, which are covered with green and white striped wallpaper. Pictures of his nine grandchildren are scattered throughout the room. And the 69-year-old Hassinger never allows clutter to build up on his wooden desk.
Thatâ€™s because his job as sheriff has become like home to him. Workweeks, he explained, average between 50 and 60 hours. And even when the long days end and he goes to his familyâ€™s home in Wadsworth, his job isnâ€™t done.
The job of sheriff has become like home to Neil Hassinger, with workweeks averaging between 50 and 60 hours and work just a thought away when he is at his Wadsworth home. Hassinger said he is always thinking how to improve the sheriffâ€™s operations. (Andrew Dolph | Staff photographer)
While he does make time for his Friday night dates with his wife of 52 years, Patricia, and Sunday afternoon lunches with his children and grandchildren, work is always just a thought away.
â€œVery frankly, when Iâ€™m at home Iâ€™m constantly thinking about what to do next. I never take it off,â€ said Hassinger. â€œAnd I want my people to think about that. â€¦ What do we do next to improve our operations? You never become complacent because if you do, you fall backwards. So we continually strive to move forward.â€
And thatâ€™s what, he explained, helped him turn around operations at the sheriffâ€™s office and the jail since he took office in 1997.
Hassinger said back in the late 1990s, public office didnâ€™t seem very attractive to him â€” he had just retired from the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
â€œBut some friends of mine urged me to get involved in politics and run for sheriff, which was the last thing in the world I wanted to do,â€ Hassinger said.
He explained he had seen the political realm when he did security work for Ohio governors with the highway patrol.
â€œI thought, â€˜Who would ever want to do this?â€™ â€
But after seeing some changes that could be made in the sheriffâ€™s department, he ran for the position and won. And since taking office, not only has Hassinger been a law enforcement official and politician, he also wears the hat of businessman.
Between 1998 and 2006, Hassinger reported, he generated $6.3 million for the general fund of Medina County. Cost-cutting moves he implemented include renting out empty beds in the county jail when it is under capacity and mandating that patrol cars stop in an open location for 10 minutes every hour to save on gas.
Ten minutes every hour on an eight-hour shift amounts to 80 minutes of driving time saved, Hassinger explained with a smile.
In addition, Hassinger said he helped change the way the sheriffâ€™s office and the Medina County Jail are run.
â€œWeâ€™ve come in and weâ€™ve completely (rewritten) the policies and procedures here for this agency,â€ he said.
The new policies have worked so well, Hassinger said, that in 1998 the Medina County Sheriffâ€™s Office became the fourth in Ohio to receive accreditation from the Bureau of Adult Detention. In addition, the jailâ€™s medical unit received accreditation through the National Commission of Correctional Health.
And since receiving that honor, the sheriffâ€™s office has worked to help other agencies do the same â€” allowing other organizations to use the same policies and procedures in their jails that Hassinger implemented.
â€œAll you have to do is change the county name or put a city name in it,â€ he said.
Hassinger said the sheriffâ€™s office has helped Knox County receive accreditation, and is assisting Erie and Ashland counties in the accreditation process.
â€œI want this county to be a safe place for people to be able to live with their families and raise their families and enjoy themselves. We canâ€™t do that unless itâ€™s a safe community,â€ he said. Thus, Hassinger has created programs that aim to link residents with the sheriffâ€™s office.
In his years in office, Hassinger created the Deputies Who Care program that focuses special attention on Medina Countyâ€™s senior citizens, and the Deadbeat Dad program that locates fathers who neglect child support payments. In addition, the sheriffâ€™s office was one of the first in the state to publish the names of local registered sex offenders on the Internet.
Hassinger, sitting straight in his office chair, explained such service to the community and respect, in general, to others is what makes his job as sheriff.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of power in the office of sheriff because under Ohio law the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county,â€ Hassinger said. â€œBut thatâ€™s in words. It doesnâ€™t mean anything if you donâ€™t earn it. â€¦ The power of the badge is nothing without respect.â€
And Hassinger said he hopes to continue such service to the county. He is running unopposed for re-election in the November general election. He will be 73 at the end of his next four-year term.
But thatâ€™s OK, he said, because he wants to show other senior citizens that itâ€™s not too late to keep working.
â€œI see a lot of people my age end up sitting on their front porch or their swing and doing nothing and just ending up dying,â€ he said. â€œI guess Iâ€™d like to inspire people my age to keep moving, to keep going and that you can be involved in the community.
â€œWe have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge. Letâ€™s share it with the younger people,â€ he said.
Even after the next term, he said, there would be a chance he might run for another one.
â€œIf my health holds up and my wifeâ€™s health holds up, yeah, then thereâ€™s a good chance I would run again,â€ he said. â€œIf I felt I couldnâ€™t do the job properly, of course, I wonâ€™t do it. I would step aside. But right now thereâ€™s no reason I canâ€™t do it.â€
Kacik may be reached at 330-721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.