Kenneth Zolnierek, a 52-year-old resident of Bay City, is a registered sex offender who has been convicted of multiple felonies. The only difference between him and most other convicted sex offenders in Michigan, is that Zolnierek wants to be the next Bay County Sheriff. And the law says that he can be.
Zolnierek’s criminal history includes two 1994 fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct convictions in Alpena County, MI and a 2008 distributing or promoting child sexually abusive material conviction. Michigan law requires that people convicted of sex-related crimes register with the state’s sex offender registry, which means that Zolnierek is currently a registered sex offender, and may be one for the rest of his life.
While this can be a major deterrent in getting a decent job nowadays, it isn’t an obstacle in running for public office. The current Bay County Sheriff, John Miller, is not seeking reelection. A total of five candidates have stepped up to the plate to offer their services as his replacement. One of those candidates is Zolnierek, which can caused something of a media stir.
With regard to one of his 1994 conviction, Zolnierek says that he was “young, dumb and stupid” at the time. He was allegedly intoxicated at the time and urinating outside a bar in Alpena. A woman pulled up in a car with her children in the backseat, and Zolnierek said something lewd to her. But that won’t happen again, he says, because he has since quit drinking. Incidentally, Zoinierek’s description of the event does not match the description of a CSC 4th degree which includes a sexual touching on another person.
While we realize that most people would be dead set against having a convicted criminal serve as their county sheriff, consider these facts. One point of a sentence handed down by a judge in court, is to provide a suitable punishment for a person’s transgressions. Once they have served that sentence, they have effectively completed the assigned period of punishment and shouldn’t continue to be punished for the indefinite future. So says our legal system.
Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody does things that they later regret. It’s just that most of us have the luxury of not getting caught. A vast number of people have driven home after one too many drinks without encountering police. Many people have looked at pictures on the internet that they shouldn’t have, or taken something, however small and insignificant, that didn’t belong to them.
Even things like driving over the speed limit is against the law and by definition, that makes it unlawful behavior. On the other hand, most of us have never sexually touched another person without their permission. Everything is relative, right?
We are not trying to excuse these behaviors, or minimize the significance of making the right choices in life. But we are trying to point out that no one is perfect and one difference between most convicted criminals and the average civilian is that the latter has been lucky enough to get away with their poor choices.
However unsettling this idea might make you, the truth is that Zolnierek has served his time and paid his dues to the community. He is legally entitled to run for Sheriff and who knows, he might even be a good one. Chances are we’ll never know, because he probably won’t be elected.