Friday, December 17, 2010


For too many years, Stark County commissioners have not be exercising due diligence with respect to county finances.

That appears to be about to change with the election of Tom Bernabei (Democrat - Canton) and Janet Creighton (Republican - Canton).  Bernabei is already on the job because he was elected to fill out Tom Harmon's term (held by former Jackson trustee Stephen Meeks on what turns out to have been an"interim" appointee basis by the Stark County Democratic Party) and Creighton will be sworn in with the beginning of the new year.

During Wednesday's meeting an item on the agenda was the authorization for payment of four unencumbered expenses in the total amount of $1,134.00 by the Stark County Dog Pound (SCDP) from the Dog and Kennel fund of the Stark County general fund. 

A question was raised by Commissioner Bernabei and Commissioner-elect Creighton as to why commissioners were getting requests for "after-the-fact" funding approval.  In the experience of the SCPR attending nearly every weekly meeting of the commissioners, such requests are not rare.

A sort of response from county administrative personnel was that there is a new dog warden in place and that obviously some re-training had to take place to school not only the folks at the SCDP, but personnel throughout Stark County government, that non-emergency purchases need to be authorized by an approved purchase order before the purchase is made from encumbered funds.

See this video on the exchange.

The SCPR believes that future repeat offenders will be left holding the bag to pay for improperly processed purchases.

What does The Report base this prediction on?

Since Tom Bernabei has taken his seat as commissioner, he has been consummately thorough in trying to make sure he understands what he is voting on before he votes (see the video presented below as an example) and has no hesitation whatsoever to ask for a tabling of matters which he doesn't feel he has a full grasp on.  Moreover, he has made it abundantly clear that he does not like and will not tolerate surprises.  And, of course, from his asking of the "non-encumbered expense" questions, it is clear that he is going to be a stickler for county personnel following procedure.

Commissioner-elect Janet Creighton has shared with the SCPR an experience she had back in the mid-1980s when she, as county recorder, traveled on county business to the tune of $500 to $600 in expense, but there were no encumbered funds to cover the expense.  Creighton says that the then county auditor Bill Bowman refused to pay the travel expense because of its non-encumbered status and owing to the fact that there was no money in the fund available to encumber after the fact.

Creighton points to this personal experience which occurred at a time when she could ill-afford dipping into her own finances to cover the expense as being a lesson she will never forget. 

The SCPR believes that Creighton's experience is instructive to county personnel who do not get their procedure right. In fact, she has told The Report that she can see herself voting "no" when presented with a request on a non-encumbered routine matter item which is part of a pattern.

What are the chances that Bernabei and Ferguson will follow her lead?

Pretty high, don't you think?

Stark Countians are likely to be delighted with the hard decisions that the 2011 board of Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson is going to bring to Stark County government.  Over time there is going to be a rebirth of confidence among Stark Countians in the thoroughness and diligence in this trio.

As we all now know,  2009 and 2010 were tough years for Stark County government.

The year 2008 ended on a sour note when the then commissioners Bosley, Harmon and Vignos imposed a 0.50 sales tax increase which began to be collected in 2009.   In very short order a citizen group "Vote No Increased Taxes" formed to repeal the imposed tax.

The focus of Bosley, Harmon and Vignos was that the tax increase was needed to fix 9-1-1 which had in 2008 been assessed by a commissioned organization as being badly broken.

Pushed to the background was the fact that half of the revenues to collected on the sales tax increase was to go into the county general fund.

In an arrogant sort of way, county officials favoring retention of the tax believed that the citizens' group could not collect the necessary signatures to get repeal on the ballot and, even if they did, they would not have the resources in terms of manpower and finances to defeat the county officials.

On April 9, 2009 came the revelation that money had been stolen from the Stark County treasury by the office chief deputy.  How much had been stolen?  The answer to that question did not come until June, 2010 when it was revealed in the filing of the bill of information by federal prosecutors in the U.S. District Court sitting in Akron that $2.46 million had been stolen and that a total of $2.96 million was missing.  Judge John Adams at the sentencing in September said that he was convinced that the entire $2.96 million had been stolen.

In November, 2009, Stark County voters repealed the 0.50 imposed sales tax with an overwhelming majority and so the county found itself in an instant financial crisis.  

Though he was not implicated in the theft of the money, Gary D. Zeigler was removed by Stark County commissioners on August 23, 2010 on the authority of a permissive Ohio statute on the basis that the money came up missing during his tenure as treasurer.  Zeigler is challenging his removal in the courts.

Since then, Stark County has had three treasurers (Allbritain, Koher and Zumbar - elected on 11/02/2010).  Treasurer Zumbar has discovered that he has to deal with a union that no one knew existed until he took office.  Moreover, in trying to meet the commissioners' insistence that each and every general fund department of county government reduce their budgets by 16% for fiscal year 2011, Zumbar found that treasury was paying monies for technology which he felt should be assigned elsewhere.  Add to this that Zumbar has a staff or 14 compared to 22 a mere year ago.

Clearly, these are tough times at the Stark treasury.

But not only the treasury, but also at all the county departments of government.

Notwithstanding the tough times, the SCPR believes that there could not be a better infusion of new blood into the leadership of Stark County government.  Though longtime veterans of local government service, Bernabei and Creighton along the way have gained a lot of insight as to how to efficiently and effectively run government.  Both can look anyone in the eye and ask penetrating questions and require answers that make sense.

Yes a new day is dawning in Stark County government in the sense that due diligence in county government is the new reality!

Take a look at Benabei's dogged questioning at Wednesday's meeting.

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