Thursday, December 10, 2009



Due to the untimely death of Mike Rehfus on November 10th, Stark County Democrats will be gathering at a AFL-CIO union facility (the Golden Lodge on Harrison) at 5:00 PM on Tuesday next (the 15th of December) to select a successor.

Recently, the SCPR has Stark County Democratic Party chairman Randy Gonzalez for a list of  candidates who put their names in to be Rehfus' successor.

Here is the list:

Huron County?  You have got to be kidding, no?

You can bet that Gonzalez et al are not going to let an out-of-county guy come in and be county engineer, no matter how qualified he is.

So scratch Kovach.

That leaves Bennett.

Only a few people in Stark County and not all that many more across the entire state of Ohio are qualified for the job - no matter what their political party is - because the position as a matter of Ohio statutory law requires that the county engineer be both a registered engineer and a registered surveyor.

When Francis V. Fischer retired on January 1, 2003, Stark County Democrats chose Mike Rehfus to succeed him.

At the time, there was a hew and cry about how limited the field of candidates was because of the statutory mandates.

The Repository editors harrangued about this situation which prompted then state Representative John Hagan (Republican - the 50th) to go on a mission to lessen the standards.


How ridiculous!

Even though the Republicans in Columbus were in the majority/supermajority,  Hagan taking on the task was like sending a boy to do a man's job.  It was pure grandstanding by Hagan and The Rep editors gave him a pass on his utter failure.

Inside political people in Stark County had known for some time that Mike Rehfus was not well.

Was one of the folks Representative Todd Snitchler (Republican, Lake Township)?

Probably so.

The SCPR regularly checks on the work of Stark County's legislators to see what bills they are offering and what the prospects for passage are.

What is one of the bills Snitchler is offering?

Hagan's bill, which is ironic in and of itself in that Hagan's daughter Christina ran against Snitchler in the Republican primary in March, 2008.


Must mean that the Republicans are trying to qualify one of their own to take on Keith Bennett next November.

Only one problem.  Ohio House Speaker Armond Budish (a Democrat, of course) will not allow Republicans to get hearings on their bills, much less gain passage.

So if the Republicans are to have a candidate contra Bennett, he/she will have to be a registered engineer and surveyor.

What you have read so far is just part one of the full story.

The real story is that Keith Bennett who is one of the owners of Hammontree & Associates is making so much money at Hammontree that he could not or will not take the pay cut to be full time Stark County engineer.

Moreover, a Stark County elected offcial tells the SCPR that Bennett has to divest himself of involvement in public contracts involving Stark County government.

The SCPR did call Bennett, but he has not returned the phone call.

However, the SCPR received an email from a source which seems to tell a version of the full story on the Rehfus succession process.

The questions about Bennett are two fold:
  1. Will his selection present conflicts-in-interest; especially if he maintains his ties to Hammontree as suggested in the email, and
  2. Will Stark County end up with a part-time county engineer.
There is one other question.

Why didn't Mike Rehfus have a successor in line?

You will note that the email says that Mike was preparing a successor.   A Stark County official who spoke with the SCPR denies that such was the case and that Mike's untimely death is the explanation why no successor was in the works.

Here is the email with some minor editing:
Thought it best that you should know that the decision has been made [SCPR note:  actually the selection is not scheduled until Deember 15th as noted in the SCPR material above; apparently, the source is anticipating] to select Mr. Keith Bennett, P.E.,P.S. of Hammondtree Consulting Engineers to serve as Stark County’s next Engineer.

Yes, Keith is he [sic] son of Fred F. Bennett,P.E.,P.S. Fred is the LONGTIME  Belmont County Engineer.

Under the topic of: I don’t know how they do things in Stark County, but……….

As you know, Mike Rehfus selected ... [name and position of person edited out by SCPR] as the presumed heir apparent to the County Engineer’s spot. However, as things often happen to the best laid plans of mice and men, ... [name edited out by SCPR] while working on, has not yet acquired his Professional Surveyors License. An absolute necessity for the County Engineer’s spot. Another land mine for Mike Rehfus’ plan of ascension, or at least I would think so in the political world of Stark County… ... [name edited out by SCPR] had yet to become a Democrat.

Yes, Mike’s heir apparent was/is a Republican. How that happened, and how that was ever allowed to happen, I would guess,  remains beyond the comprehension of many in most Democratic circles of politically astute Stark County.

Now the $64,000 question : Does Keith Bennett plan to leave his lucrative position with Hammondtree for the “measly” hundred thousand (plus) annual salary paid the Stark County Engineer ?

Word is that Bennett has indicated to The Party that, while he’s willing to take the County Engineer’s position, he’s NOT interested in leaving Hamondtree knowing he’ll., perhaps, be facing an opponent in the upcoming election cycle.

While there is a statutory provision allowing for “Part-Time” County Engineers, most seasoned party moguls frown on such circumstances, believing it naturally places the official at a decided disadvantage before the public, and just naturally questions the official’s dedication to his public office. In addition, such a move could give rise to serious questions of conflict of interests should Hammondtree, [sic] even through a “RFQ or Bid Process”, receive design or engineering contracts anywhere in Stark County.

As you know there have been volumes written regarding anyone attempting to serve two masters. However, how anyone would go about serving the Taxpayers of Stark County, Hammondtree and the Stark County Democratic party seems to stretch even a most capable public official.

Certainly, concerns regarding facing an opponent prior to being able to prove ones self under the fire of the office is understandable. After all, just how much can one expect a County Engineer to do within only a few months of being appointed?  Then again………how much can anyone expect if the appointment appears to be treated as merely a fill-in option?

With the election of a permanent Stark County Engineer due in 2012, [sic  SCPR understands that the election will take place in November, 2010] perhaps the Stark County Democratic party was looking for a temp and not someone to carry the party’s banner into the next decade.

Still, the Stark County Engineer’s Office has a considerable budget, controls a lot of jobs, and can mean all the difference in just where Federal, ODOT, OPWC and other funds end up going. Doesn’t seem like a temp spot…or does it ?

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