Tuesday, February 23, 2010
WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO SUPPORT STARK COUNTY GOVERNMENT IN ITS PRESENT FORM?
The Stark County Board of Elections (BOE) is one of the most unaccountable units of Stark County government.
There is absolutely no way for citizens to get a grip on the operation of this aspect of local government. Even the Ohio secretary of state has limited ability to control local boards of election.
The BOE budget is set to skyrocket this year to nearly $3 million dollars.Almost a whopping $1 million more in one year.
The board is staffed by four political appointees (Cline - R, Braden - R, Maier - D and Ferruccio - D). Taxpayers are paying upwards of $68,000 a year for this group of four. No election, no way to even ask questions during their meetings. And they reject requests to "merely" consider a proposal in the light of public discussion.
For the most part, the SCPR sees the board of election members as being consummate political people who are looking out primarily for the interests of a political party.
Just go to one of the BOE meetings. Two Republicans sit on one side. The Dems on the other. The setting has a comical tone to it. But the surveillance factor, one side on the other, is ever present and serious.
An uneasy truce (somewhat like the 38th parallel between North and South Korea) maintains. But partisan warfare can flare up in a heartbeat. In these instances, the Ohio secretary of state has the deciding vote.
None of Stark's board members come across to the SCPR as being small "d" Democrats as a matter of passion. They are on the board because they are stanch Rs and Ds. Each side has it lawyer member ready - apparently - to do legal battle if the need arises.
Another instance where government has been skewed by Democrats and Republicans. While paying lip service to protecting the right of the individual to vote, in reality these boards seem far more intent on preserving and protecting respective political party interests.
Ohio's board of elections structure needs redoing. Civil servants should man them; not political warriors. However, organizational Republicans and Democrats would fight such a move bitterly. A move to non-partisanship staffing will not happen anytime soon.
With structural reform nowhere insight, what is a citizen to do?
It appears that the only thing left to do is cut off the money.
But even sending this message will have to be done indirectly.
Unfortunately, the responsive and "let us hear you" departments of county government will suffer while the unresponsive ones are brought to heel under the crush of financial reality.
The Report has supported many, many tax issues over the years.
However, this access/openness issue together with the use of public monies, in all too many Stark County departments of government, to provide employment at taxpayer expense for the politically connected militates for a change in course.
The change? No more votes for renewed or new county taxes until the offending are brought to heel.
Unless and until the rest of Stark County government leans on the likes of the Stark BOE to be responsive and friendly to everyday citizens, then there should be no more voted-in new or renewal money for all of Stark government.
Stark County government officials will whine that punishing all for the sins of a few is unfair.
Fair or unfair, it is an effective power that citizens have. And Stark County citizens should exercise that right to send all of Stark County government a message.
The first citizen shot across the bow was voter rejection, in November, of the imposed sales/use tax.
But apparently, the rejection was not enough.
Soon county government will have to be putting up at least a renewal of a levy.
Whatever the initiative is, Stark citizens should once again reject.
Undoubtedly, government will respond by cutting citizen services where it is felt most immediately by the public. Public school districts have refined the cutting process into a fine art as a way of striking back. Expect the same of county government.
At issue is who really controls government, the bureaucrats and those who feed at the trough of public largess, or, the people.
It is time for Stark Countians to step to the fore in this battle and go about shrinking the county financial pie.
The Stark County budget is somewhere in the realm of the mid-50s of millions. Maybe it needs to get well down into the 40s. The government entities with mandate authority will likely continue hog a growing annual share of the pie, but sooner or later the non-mandates will have to stand their ground just to continue existence.
Shrink the revenue until the lesser lights have no choice but to stand up and do something (e.g. institute institutional peer pressure) about what the SCPR sees as an anti-public accessibility and openness mentality currently being demonstrated all too much of county government.
The day and age of units of government thumbing their nose at the public and still getting public financial support needs to stop.
Judge Charles Brown (Stark County Common Pleas) and his court fellows commissioned a task force to find a way to get the public in a state of mind to agree to keep Stark County government solvent through increased revenues.
The way, of course, is to restore public trust.
But trust is built up over night in the first place, and, once lost, it takes twice as long to restore.
Most of Stark County government has lost the trust of the people.
For the SCPR, the Stark BOE is a prime example of stewards of the public trust throwing trust to the winds. Filming a public event? Getting consideration of an item on the public agenda? Simple things. But when you get members in a "show you" attitude; trust evaporates and regaining it will take different members in a different time.
It is not surprising that the Stark BOE would be a bastion of power play politics. After all, it has been and continues to be a haven for powerful Stark County politicians. One even has as his idol, Ohio's most recent, but last "old school" power politician Vern Riffe.
Stark County government appears to be a good fit for the Walt Kelly quote: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
When financial disaster befalls county government which could be as little as a year or two away, they will point their collective fingers at the Stark County taxpayer and seek to punish.
But if they were honest with themselves, they should be pointing at themselves.
It has been a long time in coming, but the Stark Board of Elections and yesterday's performance has succeeded in flipping the SCPR over into being for "No Increased Taxes!"