Friday, March 5, 2010
IT'S "COME TO JESUS TIME" FOR STARK COUNTY DEPARTMENTS OF GOVERNMENT. COUNTY COMMISSIONERS PREPARE TO MAKE CUTS IN BUDGET. WHO IS HOT, WHO IS NOT?
The Stark County commissioners are the hottest date in Stark County these days.
Because they are dishing out the goodies.
What kind of goodies?
Your money and my money aka tax revenues.
And Stark's departments of government are putting their best side forward trying to convince the commissioners to give them what they are asking for.
Undoubtedly, the commissioners do not want to disappoint any of their dates, but - alas, alas - they have no choice. There simply is not enough of the commissioners - in terms of the money they control - to go around.
They are $3 million short on the supply side of the demand.
So which Stark departments of government are going to be happy with the allocation of county green and which are going to be mad?
The SCPR has learned that the sheriff and the Veterans Service Commission are likely among the departments that are going to be smiling whereas the Stark Board of Elections is likely to be hopping mad.
The Report is not particularly happy that the sheriff is going to be pleased. Why? Because the SCPR does not think that Sheriff Swanson does an effective policing job for Stark County.
Another sheriff with more of a creative/innovative, aware side could do better.
And then there's the thing about some saying that Swanson is not a hands-on sheriff (out fishing - at least when weather permits), has a huge illegal gambling operation going on right under his nose that allegedly involves some Stark County big time political names and is trying to impose retired/rehired Chief Deputy Rick Perez on Stark Countians when Swanson finally gives it up (probably in September, 2010 - The Report is hearing).
Plus there is the "poop on the public" Sheriff Swanson who bragged at a county commissioners meeting on working towards multiple retirement plans. Why should Stark County reward a sheriff with an attitude who is mediocre at best as a law enforcer?
The SCPR is happy that the Veterans Service Commission (VSC) is apparently going to be treated well on its request. This agency of Stark County government has a right under Ohio law to get more than it ever asks for, but under the leadership of executive director Bob Toth has been super-responsible in moderating what it could demand. Moreover, he represents veterans. And veterans are givers, not takers as are all too many who run Stark County departments of government. The veterans have made great sacrifices and deserve special attention.
An example of a department which is staffed by a number of takers at the top? The Stark County Board of Elections (SBOE). The Board has made an outrageous request for a nearly million dollar increase for the new financial year.
The SCPR is particularly pleased that it appears that the SBOE will likely fall well short of its request.
The board members are politically connected folks who are not accountable to the voting public. And, - in the opinion of the SCPR - for the most part they are an arrogant lot. The only way to hope to control them is - apparently - is to keep a very tight rein on their money supply.
A few days ago, The Report published a piece on board member Frank "Curt" Braden and his costing Stark County taxpayers approximately $130 because he failed to get the "government rate" when he stayed at the Columbus Hyatt Regency (no Motel 6 for Mr. Braden) in late January, 2010.
Now that The Report has seen this indignity visited on Stark's taxpayers (which the Stark County commissioners just rolled over on - they should have just reimbursed Braden at the "government rate"), such should be taken as a signal that the SBOE's operation needs further and continual scrutiny.
On the "democracy-in-inaction" side, the Stark BOE is a star performer. At the last meeting the SCPR showed up with camera-in-hand to record the meeting in order to share with the general public - who just might have a problem making 8:00 a.m. meetings - and look at how this group operates.
What did The Report get? Well, it wasn't: "Martin, what a good thing you are doing for Stark's citizens."
Rather, Chairman William Cline (after consulting with political strongman Vern Riffe disciple - Johnnie A. Maier, Jr - which consultation the SCPR suspects was done to supply Cline's need to get marching orders from Maier on the video taping matter) squelched the effort to record.
All the other board members sat by in silence as Cline rejected The Report's request that he put the entire board on record. So did Repository (Stark's Sunshine Week publication?) representative.
So the question becomes, what is it about pictures of their behavior and bodily mannerism that they don't want the Stark public seeing?
Another democracy enhancing project of the SCPR is to have the SBOE use its fancy new copy/scanning machine to save Stark Countians money is accessing public records.
Save money in what way?
By allowing citizens to access copies of candidate filed petitions and candidate campaign finance reports via the Internet. In addition to saving trip time, gasoline expense and standby time while a BOE employee copies the records requested, it is a horrible waste of taxpayer dollars to have a Board employee make copies of the same record many times over as multiple individual citizens go to the BOE for the very same records.
And, of course, there are the relatively minor factors of copy costs to the citizen and the wear and tear on the copy machine.
The SCPR has asked Director Jeannette Mullane to get a scanning proposal on the Board regular meeting agenda. She says she tried, but was told "no" by the Board. She refuses to say whom on the Board.
Of course not.
One shouldn't expect this Board to care one wit about being citizen and taxpayer friendly. The Report believes that these are people who care most about their respective political parties. After all, that's who put them in the position in the first place at about $17,000 per member annually.
Accordingly, the disdained public should say: "Okay boys, you don't want to be responsive to the public interest, we, the taxpayers, will use the tools we have to drive the lesson of accountability and accessibility home." We will vote no new money to a county government that allows one of its departments to thumb their collective noses at the public.
We all should take satisfaction of a point being made in terms that board members can understand that the job of being a Stark County Board of Election member just might become more difficult, if a substantial part of their nearly $1 million increase is rejected They clearly have no problem whatsoever in making the lives of those us who want public access to meetings and records in the easiest and most efficient form more difficult by rejecting reasonable, common sense requests.
The Stark County Board of Commissioners could lean on the SBOE to do these simple measures requested by The Report.
But will they?
The commissioners are all part of a Stark County political fraternity that includes all the BOE members. The commissioners wouldn't want to offend.
Well, Stark County taxpayers may not be reluctant to offend when it comes to exercising our opportunity to vote on renewed or new taxes in November of this year or in 2011.
If county government cannot be responsive to the citizenry, then the political rejoinder of choice is to say "I'm voting no on any and all county tax issues!" By shrinking the financial pie, Stark Countians will be continuing the pressure of the likes of the Stark County Board of Elections to become more citizen/voter friendly.
As a response, would the commissioners dare impose new taxes?
Not likely. How many ex-commissioners does Stark have over sales tax issues?
Indeed, current times are a "come to Jesus" moment in Stark County political/governmental history!