Monday, March 8, 2010


Revised on 3/14/2010 at 9:00 pm to make it clear that this blog is the work product of yours truly as an opinion journalist - as are all the SCPR blogs - and not as an attorney.

Perhaps, GateHouse Ohio Media's most talented Stark County journalist, Matt Rink of The Massillon Independent, has been doing a splendid job of writing about the controversy that Massillon Municipal Court judge Edward "Eddie" Elum has generated in Tigertown over his allegations that Massillon Police Chief Robert Williams is "unfit" for his job, and that Williams has not kept the Massillon Police Department properly equipped.

A sure sign that Rink is doing a good job in digging out the story is revealed in Elum's own statement:  "The Independent was not aggressive enough in its reporting ... of the case."  (Elum denies vendetta with MPD, but says Williams unfit to lead, department ill-equipped, March 5, 2010)

In other words,  The Independent is not bending to the will of Judge Edward J. Elum.

In the opinion of the SCPR, Judge Elum is looking more and more like a bully.  For too many years, Massillon government officials have given into or looked the other way on Elum's episodic tirades and now the "chickens are coming home to roost."

And it's not just the police department thing that's in full swing right now.  There are a number of aspects to Elum-connected sown discord that is plaguing Massillon City government these days.  It seems rather apparent that there is Judge Edward Elum's way - or - the highway.

The Report believes there is an Elum connection to the Catazaro-Perry/Anderson led faction of Massillon City Council that appears to oppose anything "Frank Cicchinelli."

Though Elum denied that he has hatred of all things "Cicchinelli;"  nearly everyone that The Report has spoken with in recent times about the relationship between Elum and Cicchinelli are unanimous:  "these men hate each other!"

Elum seems to understand that one of the few remaining government positions that everyday citizens still defer to is that of being a judge.  That's why the SCPR thinks that Elum continues to deny the undeniable.  Many still believe a judge's word just because it comes from a judge, even if the rhetoric doesn't quite square up with behavior.  

Recently, a Massillon official relayed to The Report an incident in Judge Elum's courtroom whereby he was being very insulting to an obese woman because of her obesity.  Most judges that yours truly know would be disgusted to see a judge do such a thing.

Not long ago the SCPR learned that Massillon clerk of courts Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. (who is an unelected - by the voting public - political appointee serving on the Stark Board of Elections (SBOE)) hired the sister of SBOE director Jeannette Mullane to work at the clerk's office which he was elected to.

No surprise here.

According to an e-mail the SCPR received a couple days ago, there was more to this hiring than a mere hiring.

This is where Judge Elum comes into the picture.

In being hired, the Mullane sister got caught up in what appears to be a long term political fight between Mayor Cicchinelli's administration and Cicchinelli foes - whom, according to the Mayor, include:   Judge Elum and Johnnie A. Maier, Jr (clerk of courts) among others.

This is a fight that has been going on in Massillon over the differentiation between "regular" city employees on one side and Masillon clerk of courts/municipal court employees on the other.

Over the years, by municipal ordinance, Massillon officials have been putting city employees on health care benefits after six months of employment.  But according to Safety Director Mike Loudiana, the clerk and the Massillon Municipal Court judges have insisted that the clerk/court new hires be put on benefits on the first of the month following the date of hire.

Massillon executive department officials have historically only complied on being ordered to by the two Massillon Municipal Court judges.  Accordingly, each and every time the clerk/court hired an employee, one of two judges (whomever happened to be the administrative judge) would order the city auditor to place new clerk/court employee on health care benefits on the first of the month following the date of hire.

A Couple of months ago, Director Loudiana decided to make a fight of it.  He picked the Mullane sister hiring to do so.    Loudiana tells The Report he had three reasons for resisting.  First, there was a city ordinance specifying a six month after hire date for being put on health care benefits; second, making a difference between city employees and clerk/court employees caused problems with the union that represents city workers and, third, the near immediate placement on health care benefits - rather than six months out - costs the City of Massillon $4,000 to $5,000 for each employee.

The sister did have an additional problem.  She had been hired in on a 30 hours per week basis and the ordinance in question required both a six month delay and that the employee work 35 hours per week.  Solution on the hourly factor?  Maier increased her hours to 35.

However, the Report believes there is another reason Loudiana stood up and fought.

Well, what would that be?

Loudiana tells the SCPR that he and his benefits administrator were threatened with jail if they did not comply with the Court's order to place Mullane's sister on benefit status immediately.

Yours truly did talk with Judge Edward Elum prior to writing this blog.

He denied that he had threatened Loudiana and the city employee with jail.

And, he is correct.  But in issuing the denial, Elum was getting "cutesy" with The Report. Not exactly something one would expect from a sitting judge.

If there was a threat, it was not Elum who issued it.  Rather, according to Loudiana, Judge Roland Centrone (who happens to be the the current administrative judge) is the judge who Loudiana says told Massillon's benefits administrator that non-compliance with the Court's order could mean jail for her and her boss (Loudiana).

In the long and short of it, Loudiana ultimately decided that he had better things to do than fight with Maier and the Court over the timing issue.   At Louidana's urging for clarification, Massillon City Council resolved the matter by  changing the ordinance that had been in effect since 1975.  Under the revised ordinance,  authority was granted to put clerk/court employees - as they hired in - on benefits.   But regular city employees still have to wait six months.

Before the ordinance passed, Maier and the judges had gotten a letter from Massillon law director Perry Stergios saying that the authority to differentiate already existed.

The SCPR believes that there is more to this fuss than the timing of the beginning of health care benefits.  It appears to be one vignette of many which play out on the larger backdrop of an Elum/Maier/Catazaro-Perry versus Cicchinelli historical adversity.

On the benefits issue, Judge Elum characterizes the fight as being a constitution-esque "separation of powers" matter.  The Report gets the impression that Cicchinelli sees the matter as a political power move.

The SCPR does not buy the "separation of powers" argument.  It seems more like a "political question."

As has already been said, the interplay is more that just over the implementation of health care benefits, the police department, it is all grounded - in the Stark County Political Report's opinion - in an anti-Cicchinelli animus.

Elum goes on the radio (Q92 - DeLuca in the Morning) periodically and bashes Mayor Cicchinelli.


Elum has no ill will towards Cicchinelli?

When The Report conveyed Elum's denial to Cicchinelli, the Mayor responded with with a "from the bottom of the belly" laugh that probably could be heard throughout western Stark County.

To add vinegar to the pitting of court/clerk employees against regular employees feud, Judge Elum said this regarding Cicchinelli pal Loudiana:
Mike Loudiana is a very capable Director of Public Safety and Service and works real hard.  However, he has no power, control or supervision over the courts and clerk of court's offices.
Is this an "in your face Mike Loudiana" or is it a "separation of powers" argument?

Interpretation most likely depends on one's perspective. 

Indeed, there is a long history to this dispute.  Loudiana described to The Report how he and Johnnie Maier (Elum's proxy?) have been fighting over this issue going back to when Loudiana was a Massillon councilman. 

In kind of a non-sequitur, Elum wrote to yours truly about what an outstanding employee Mullane's sister is.  Huh?

Don't recall anyone questioning the sister's competence (Elum says she's a CPA.  So?).

The question - at best, an implied side issue to the benefits matter - is whether or not she got the job because of her political connections to the exclusion of the general run of unconnected taxpaying citizens?   Curiously enough, Elum did not offer an opinion on that question. 

Then there is the matter of the lawsuit.

This lawsuit is basically over the city administration's use of the Parks and Recreation Department's 0.3 of a percent share of city income tax on the city-owned Legends golf course.

The SCPR attended the oral arguments on Thursday last on cross-motions for summary judgment which to non-lawyers is legalese for the city's attorneys (Stergios, et al) and the Park Board's attorney (Craig Conley) asking Judge John Haas (Stark County Common Pleas Court) to dismiss the case in the favor of the city (Stergios) or in favor of the Park Board (Conley) and thereby wiping out a trial on the issues of the case.

Interestingly enough, one of Conley's premier arguments was that the Park Board is an autonomous unit of government and therefore not under the control of Massillon city government and Mayor Cicchinelli.  Sounds a little like the Massillon Municipal Court and the clerk of courts insisting on charting a different course than the rest of Massillon as to how employees are treated.

The Report is told by a number of Massillonians that Judge Elum has been very active in the background assisting in the construction of the Park Board's side of the case.

Cicchinelli openly tells The Report that though Elum is not a party to the suit, he is a prime mover behind the scene and, has, in the opinion of the Mayor, crossed the lines of ethical propriety.

Sound like chums, don't they?

As a lawyer, yours truly knows how difficult it can be to deal with a judge who is thought to be or becoming "extra-judicial."  Such - when it occurs - is utterly unfair for anyone who has to deal with an offending judge.  And not just lawyers.  But also for everyday citizens (e.g. the obese lady), city officials (Cicchinelli, Loudiana, Chief Williams et al) and others who have to deal with a judge who cannot seem to rein himself in.

The Stark County Political Report believes that the uproar in Massillon these days is due in large part to Judge Elum's seeming desire, in concert with clerk of courts Johnnie A. Maier, Jr., to over-control Massillon's public life.  He appears to be aligned with others with the same agenda.

Rather than being perceived as fueling the fires of discord, it would be far more impressive to see Judge Elum leading the way towards building a Massillon consensus.

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