Chief Deputy Zusack to run for sheriff
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — After years at second-in-command, Chief Deputy James Zusack is throwing his hat into the ring to succeed Belmont County Sheriff David Lucas following the 2024 election.
“Sheriff Lucas advised me that he was not going to run another term, so being chief deputy since 2014, the only next step up is sheriff,” Zusack said. “I thought about it, and … that’s the position I’m going to try and achieve.”
He said his career has gained him extensive knowledge of the department’s workings and needs.
“I was with the office since 1989,” he said.
Zusack began working as summer help in the jail and office when the late Sheriff Tom McCort held the post and was hired full time in 1991. He served as a road patrol deputy, then sergeant and road patrol supervisor. In 2009 he worked in the sex offender registration, notification and training division.
“In 2014 I was promoted to chief deputy and I’ve been doing that since,” Zusack noted.
He also worked 17 years with the county’s Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, team.
“I’ve done just about every job here, from the bottom up, and my only place to go is one more step. It’s a big, humbling step for me, but I think I have the credentials to do it, and I’ll do my best,” he said.
Zusack said he was fortunate for the chance to work under prior sheriffs McCort and Fred Thompson as well as Sheriff Lucas.
“I’ve learned something from all three sheriffs. I’ll take what I’ve learned with me,” he said. “I’ve taken stuff from all of them, which I will continue to use if I should be elected sheriff.”
Originally from Maynard, he resides in Bellaire.
“I grew up in Belmont County,” he said. “I went to St. Clairsville High School. … I’ve been working in Belmont County pretty much my entire life. This is 31-plus years … I have here. I’ve got a good idea how this place runs.”
He commended the deputies and staff of the sheriff’s office.
“My leadership style is I don’t forget where I came from. I respect the jobs that these people do, because I’ve done them. I want to lead by example, and that’s what you have to do here. You have to lead by example. You can’t just talk about it, you’ve got to do things,” he said.
Should his campaign be successful, Zusack said he would continue the office’s initiatives and keep pace with changing laws and training needs.
“Sheriff Lucas has got this place running very smooth at this point. I want to continue to do that. To do that, you’ve got to keep up with ever-changing technology, the equipment, the training for your employees, which is vital. There can never be enough training for the deputies and (corrections officers) that we have,” he said. “With good training comes good work.”
He also noted the importance of continued transparency to the community and outreach to the public.
“They’re the people that call in the calls and tell us what’s going on. They see something and they say something. We want that trust. If they call in, we’re going to do our best to handle any situation,” he said.
One issue the office faces is the jail’s limited capacity. The sheriff’s office has been in discussions with the county commissioners for several years about options to expand the 144-bed facility.
“The jail is sometimes overcrowded, and yes we do house people in other counties. That’s something down the road,” he said of a possible expansion. “In that position of sheriff, I’ll be more involved in working with the commissioners in finding a way to maybe add on or do something to alleviate the overcrowding.”
He said one concern the office must continue to address is the mental crisis of many inmates.
“It has changed so much from when I started in ’91 in the amount of calls we get. The drug problem has greatly increased. The majority of people coming to this jail are people at their worst time. They’re in crisis, they’re really addicted to the drugs that they take, or they have some mental issue or a combination of both. Our (corrections officers) in jail deal with a lot over there. We have a lot of people in crisis, they shouldn’t be in jail, that’s not the place for them. We’re working with the mental health facilities and mental health people to help us find a solution.”
Like Lucas, Zusack is a Republican. According to the Belmont County Board of Elections office, no one else has filed to seek the office. The deadline to file is Dec. 20.