Monday, March 29, 2010


At first blush yours truly was struck by the fact that there is only one woman out of the 14 selectees for the hand-picked Citizens Review Committee on Stark County general fund finances.  Interesting, no?

Then there's Tom Bernabei (former Canton councilman, Healy administration official and SARTA interim head).  Now the SCPR thinks well of Bernabei, but he is a candidate for county commissioner.  He doesn't seem to be a good pick in the context of things.  Maybe someone from among the selectors has an explanation as to why Bernabei was one of the selectees?

Predictably, when names were being bandied about for selection in the talking stage of picking such a committee - their names came up - the list includes the names Craig Conley and Charles Snyder.

These two were primary Vote No Increased Taxes Committee folks who campaigned against the retention of the 0.50 of one percent imposed by the county commissioners in December, 2008.  So?  The Report thinks the duo is vulnerable to being perceived by the Stark County public as having been co-opted under a certain examination outcome scenario.

Such a scenario would be one in which the committee finds that county government is being efficient and very little, if anything, needs to change.

There is the matter of the heavy involvement of Prosecutor John Ferrero in the formation of the committee.  Moreover, he is to continue as liaison between the committee and Stark's elected officials.  And his office operations are being audited?  Hmm?

One has to believe, as the SCPR does, that the committee will vet the prosecutor's operations like any other of the examinees, but what will be the public perception given the  continuing connection between Ferrero and the committee?  Wouldn't it have been better to have someone other than an elected county officeholder serve in both capacities.  Say, someone like County Administrator Mike Hanke?

What will be real interesting is when the citizens review group shows up at the sheriff's office and at the courts.

Committee member Conley is already on record as having been "less than complimentary" of Swanson when he and Snyder showed up at the commissioners' regular meeting shortly after their Vote No Increased Taxes Committee recorded a smashing victory in leading Stark Countians in an overwhelmingly rejection of the retention of the imposed levy.

The SCPR has had a conversation with a leading Stark County citizen who wonders if Conley (an attorney) as a committee member will feel free at his initiative - or, if the committee's examination of court financial operations show room for improvement -  to join in any critique of court finances.

The SCPR thinks he will have no reluctance at all and that he will give Swanson a fair shake notwithstanding his very vocal past criticism of the Sheriff.  But again, will there be any public perception problems in the case of certain examination outcomes?

And there is Dan Fonte who the SCPR views as an ideal committee member.

The SCPR knows Fonte well and believes that he will ask the hard questions. The Report remembers Fonte for his aggressive questioning of then gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland (whom Fonte was supporting vigorously at the time) at a local Strickland campaign event.  Fonte (now retired) is a no-nonsense labor leader (pipefitters) and The Report expects him to be a model examiner.

At first glance, these are the observations of the SCPR.

However, there are other questions that The Report thinks should have been asked before specific individuals were named to the committees.  And maybe they were.  If so, we just don't know what they were.  But in the interest of transparency we should know.

In the final analysis, the main consideration that should have been made of committee prospects and answered satisfactorily should have been: what qualities/attributes do these folks - in the combination of the committee settled upon - bring in terms of  complementary, non-biased characteristics to the table?

Of course, the public has no information on the evaluative factors employed, if any.  Not knowing, is a key ingredient that allows seeds of doubt to flourish in the public domain.

Moreover, an overriding question of the committee's work is this:  What will be the significance of the final report of the citizens review committee when it is finally issued?

The SCPR says not much - no matter what the findings are -  in terms of affecting voter response to what will surely be an attempt by county officials to gain passage of a renewal of a 1/4th of one percent county sales/use tax.

The down economy, Stark County's historical opposition to local sales/use tax add-ons to the state sales/use tax, and a growing distrust of government (aided and abetted by the imposed tax of December, 2008) will likely combine to make it nearly impossible to pass even a renewal.

The promoters of the review committee deny that building support for a levy effort is their motivation.  But the SCPR is not buying.  The denials of the obvious are evidence that public officials persist in thinking that the everyday citizen does not have enough sense - in a metaphorical way of speaking - to come in out of the rain.

Perhaps some day government officials will get it that once public confidence in the institutions of government take a dive, it takes more than hastily putting together a "blue ribbon" committee to restore public trust.

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