Monday, December 21, 2009


On December 15, 2009, the Stark County Democratic Central Committee appointed Keith Bennett as the replacement engineer for Mike Rehfus who, sadly, passed away on November 10th of this year.

Today, the SCPR takes a look at Keith Bennett in more detail.

The Canton Repository has been remiss in reporting very much information about Bennett to the Stark County public.

It cannot be because "the powers that be" at The Rep do not know Bennett, if for no other reason that he is married to Barbara Hammontree Bennett of Hammontree & Associates, Ltd  of Stark County "engineering" fame.

Moreover, Barbara served as the 2009 Hall of Fame festival general chairman.

Hammontree (on its website) proudly displays a picture of the Hall of Fame bridge which takes traffic from Whipple (west) over Dressler (where it does a sharp south turn) down into the Belden Village area.

So undoubtedly Jeff Gauger et al  know the Bennett/Hammontrees combo very well indeed.  Stark County's only countywide newspaper should be digging deep into its files and resources to inform Stark Countians about the Bennett/Hammontree connection.


Because of the crucial importance of the post of Stark County engineer to which Bennett has been appointed to.

The Stark County engineer is one of the most powerful political and economic figures in the county.  He controls a large number of employees and he is involved in the process of the state of Ohio and the federal government parceling out of and monitoring of numerous, in the multi-millions of dollars (including "local match" monies),  road, bridge and various infrastructure projects throughout Stark County.

Over a space of time (beginning with today's post), the SCPR will do what The Repository has failed and likely will continue to fail Stark Countians on; finding out what Hammontree & Associates, Ltd  have interests in  - in toto -  with regard to specific existing Hammontree Stark County projects as well as Stark County political subdivision contracts and projects; which are not - per se - county-based and informing the Stark County public of the signifcance, if any, of these interests and the fact that one of Hammontree's own is now county engineer.

Why is wife Barbara (sister of current Hammontree & Associates CEO Charles F. Hammontree), part of the SCPR examination; after all she is not a county official?

Because she does work advising local government units (e.g. Perry Township) on their engineering work as she is a P.E. and P.S. (secretary/treasurer and managing partner) with Hammontree & Associates, Ltd.  Moreover, she serves on the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Ohio Rail Development Commission.  And, of course, the Stark County engineer's office is intimately tied to ODOT.

The SCPR believes that the proper way to look at this whole picture is as if the picture is of a spider web which has many interrelated connections that might bear on the Stark County public interest.

A disturbing factor with Keith Bennett already is that the SCPR contacted him prior to his being appointed county engineer to discuss his imminent appointment, but he did not return the phone call.

Does Keith Bennett think he is unaccountable to the Stark County public?

What little reporting The Rep as done on Bennett has Stark County Party chairman saying that Bennett does not have to terminate his financial relationship with Hammontree.

Isn't that swell?

Would this knowledge prompt non-Hammontree firms to do business with Hammontree as an indirect way to ingratiate themselves to the county engineer?

The SCPR obtained a copy of an email sent by Hammontree & Associates, Ltd to its "customers and clients."

A number of things stand out about it.

It clearly connotes a "What's good for Hammontree & Associates, Ltd is good for Stark County" a la former General Motors CEO Charlie Wilson's famous 1956 dictum:  "What's good for General Motors is good for America."

A pretty cozy relationship for Hammontree, wouldn't you say?

This email does not sound like Hammontree and Bennett as engineer are going to be at an arm's length relations, to wit:
We expect Keith can fill the position and minimize the impact to our firm by careful coordination and budgeting of his time as allowed within the requirements and demands of this public office.
 "[M]inimize the impact to our firm by care coordination and budgeting of his time as allows within the requirements and demands of this public office."  Hmm?  The SCPR has lots of questions about this statement.

Another part of the email:
Not only do we see this as an opportunity to help our community in which we have so much invested but also an opportunity to strengthen our firm’s relationship with the public officials we work with so frequently. (emphasis added).
Hmm, again.  More questions.
We view this as a win-win-win-win situation for the Community of Stark County, Hammontree & Associates, Keith, and our treasured clients.

Hmm, a third time.  Even more questions.

Bennett seems to rule out any continuing "official connection" with Hammontree in quotes attributed to him by Nancy Molnar of the Akron Beacon Journal,  Democrats in Stark name new engineer, commissioner (12/16/2009), to wit:
Bennett said he will step down as president and chief financial officer of Hammontree & Associates. He works in the North Canton engineering firm with his wife, Barbara Hammontree Bennett, and her two brothers.

Although the firm may complete county projects in progress, Bennett said he understands the firm will not be able to take on any new work for the county.
"[T]he firm may complete county projects in progress."

But will he be able to?

What if there is a problem with Hammontree on existing contracts/projects?

What if there are problems with projects that Hammontree is working on now and into the future with Stark County's political subdivisions, will the Bennett as engineer be intervening?

Will Bennett be allowed to weigh-in?

Even if Bennett is to be a full timer, can he extricate himself from the Hammontree network to the satisfaction of the Stark County general public?

He is the brother-in-law to two company officials.

His wife is a partner and part of the Hammontree family.

Doesn't sound realistic to the SCPR.

The SCPR will be staying on this story and getting the answers for the reading public that, apparently, The Repository isn't interested in pursuing.

Here is the entire Hammontree email:

Doesn't this email prompt tons and tons of questions?


Bennett and Hammontree seem to be excellent professionals as engineers and surveyors.

But the SCPR goes on record as saying that Bennett being engineer with his de facto  if not de jure  inextricable (in the opinion of The Report) relationship with Hammontree is potentially problematical to the interests of  everyday Stark Countians.

The Bennett/Hammontree connections are simply too thick to be undone to the satisfaction of the general public.  The SCPR would be astounded if conflicts-in-interest did not materialize.

Accordingly, Bennett should consider not running to be retained in November, 2010.  The Stark County Democrats should be out looking for an alternative.  Moreover, Stark's Republicans should be working vigorously to offer political competition for this office.

The SCPR will be watching the Bennett/Hamontree relationship as it affects Stark County and its political subdivisions very, very closely.

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