Saturday, May 8, 2010


It has been apparent to the SCPR that for some time there has been and continues to be a lot of public mistrust of government officials in their day-to-day decision making.

And what is the basis of the mistrust?

The answer:  How often politics "seem" to seep into the decision making processes of government. 

For the life of the SCPR, yours truly cannot understand why public officials persist in making hires that give credence to those who suspect that the hires at taxpayer expense are made on political considerations rather than getting the best possible person for the job.

The SCPR believes that hires done on the calculation of the politics of a situation rather than on the merits of the matter often come back and bite the elected officials doing the hiring in the a??.

Too boot, in making such a hire the official creates the beginnings of public mistrust of that official and his/her operation of a public office in the public's interest.  Governing is tough enough.  Who would want the added burden of public mistrust?

Nowhere does this appearance seem to surface more often than in the hiring processes of many departments of county government.

In Stark County commissioner government, the suspicion and public perception of political factors playing into the hire of county jobs has played in big time in the firing and hiring of a dog warden.

It was apparent to The Report at a meeting (March 18th) attended by yours truly of the Dog Pound Advisory Board (DPAB - unpaid positions, appointed by county commissioners) that there was mistrust among this group that the commissioners would take the Board's work seriously. 

So when it surfaced this week that the commissioners were considering an application of a Cynthia Harris as one of at least one of commissioners (Bosley), the DPAB rose up in a furor threatening to resign en masse.


Because, they say, Ms. Harris was not on any of their top ten lists.

One member of the DPAB (Steve Swank) revealed at Wednesday's meeting, in which the commissioners hired Reagan Tetreault (Holmes County dog warden) as Stark's new dog warden, that he was especially sensitive to the commissioners that the DPAB was suspicious that all their work screening through 127 applications was about to be disregarded for inexplicable reasons.

Rosemary Haynr (a DPAB member) spoke to the commissioners at the meeting and right off said that the DPAB did not feel that Ms Harris to be qualified for the dog warden position.

She and fellow board member Swank reviewed reasons why the DPAB fell into believing that something was wrong with the commissioner hiring process.  Swank cited the hiring of former commissioner Tom Harmon's stepson as a deputy dog warden earlier this year and both of Hayne and Swank referred to the exclusion of Swank and Cooper from the interview process in contradiction to their perception that a DPAB representative would be permitted to participate.

Hayne also recounted an apparent logistical problem in scheduling out-of-town applicants.  One lives in Virginia, one in Illinois and the third in Massachusetts.  She did not say it outright, but the SCPR inferred from her focus on the logistics as being a suggestion that the commissioners were not interested in bringing someone from out of state.

If the SCPR has made a proper inference, the implication would be that the commissioners willing to forego a possible "best qualified" candidate because of the out of state status.


Commissioners disputed the DPAB perception and would not concede that they had not promised that a board member would be allowed in on the interviews.

The SCPR sides with the DPAB on this one.

County Administrator Hanke took the lead on this aspect of the discussion and quibbled with board members over whether or not member Swank had acceded to interim dog warden being the best qualified person to sit in on the interview in lieu of Swank himself.

The Report believes that the commissioners did not want Swank, in particular, in the interviews because he was perceived by at least one of the commissioners to be biased in favor of candidate Chapman out of Massachusetts.  The Report further believes had Swank been perceived to be unbiased, then he would have been allowed in.

One of the reasons that The Report believes Swank was pushing and gathered DPAB support of his desire to be included was his perception that there was a pro-Harris bias on the part of commissioners. 

So in the end, the SCPR believes that the tug of war between the commissioner created DPAB and the commissioners was borne of a mutual distrust.

Had Harris been hired, The Report believes that it would have been extremely difficult for her to have managed the dog pound because of the board/commissioner acrimony over how she surfaced to make the final four list.

Undoubtedly, the board members who have a continuing involvement - as citizens doing much volunteer work with the dog pound - would have been especially scrutinizing of a Dog Warden Harris.  Moreover, would employees (union employees) not seek to work any perceived advantage to them on perceived Harris/DPAB discord?

The SCPR believes that the commissioners created their own problem in the dog warden hiring process.

It all began four to six weeks ago when Commissioners Bosley and Meeks agreed to meet with candidate Harris and her spouse when they appeared at the Stark County commissioners' office.

Would it not have been advisable - in terms of perceived public fairness to all applicants - for Bosley and Meeks to courteously tell the Harrises that they could not speak with them about her application/qualifications for the dog warden job until and unless she was selected to be part of the formal interview process?

The Report understands that this is a touchy situation with the commissioners because public officials should be easily accessible to citizens.  And there is no reason why commissioners should not speak with the Harrises on other matters.

Moreover, each commissioner should have reviewed in detail all of the applications and picked out applications that a given commissioner wanted specific DPAB input on.  The DPAB would then make its recommended list but also include the Board's evaluation (in the event a commissioner selectee was not on the list) of each commissioner singled out application.

As a rule, the commissioners should then select from the recommended list unless the commissioners have compelling articulated merit-based reasons for hiring outside the recommended list.  If good reasons are not spelled out for deviating from the recommended list, then DPAB members are justified in thinking that their work was in vain.

One final thing. 

The SCPR agrees with what yours truly gauges to be the commissioners "real" position (only commissioners, with a few exceptions interview and decide) on the matter of having a board member participate in interviews, though as a matter of political correctness they will not say so. 

A DPAB member should not be included in the interviews.  It is predictable that a DPAB will likely have a favorite.  The DPAB recommends.  However, they should not be advocates for particular applicants.  All members in making a "recommended list" are signing on to support whomever the commissioners hire, if the hire is from off the list.

Hopefully, the commissioners will have learned from the dog warden selection process.

The last thing that public officials need in this day and age of government skepticism and cynicism is to create their own problems in structuring and conducting the hiring process.

Their fumbling and bumbling on the dog warden matter has not served them well in terms of engendering public confidence in the integrity of their hiring procedures.

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