Friday, January 14, 2011
WILL THE STARK COUNTY COMMISSIONERS SHELTER STARK CO PROSECUTOR FROM PUBLIC SCRUTINY ON THE TOPIC OF RECOVERING TAXPAYER DOLLARS WHEN HE APPEARS BEFORE THEM THIS COMING TUESDAY?"
Stark Countians will note that virtually no information has been forthcoming from the Stark County prosecutor's office about the progress of efforts to retrieve $2.46 million in stolen taxpayer funds at the hand of former treasury Chief Deputy Vince Frustaci over a number years before he was caught and fired on April 1, 2009.
Also, there is another $500,000 or so that federal judge John Adams says he believes Frustaci made off with. However, Frustaci admitted to taking $2.45 million.
At first blush, it would appear that the 2/3rds new board of commissioners (Commissioner Bernabei and Creighton) have ushered in a new day at the commissioners' office and consequently there is an unprecedented openness and transparency being instituted on the second floor of the Stark County Office Building on "all things county government."
But not too quick!
So far the commissioners are picking the "low-hanging fruit."
On Tuesday next, all that changes.
Commissioners have had an impressive array of public officials and private entity partners into the county meeting room to explain their operations in full public view over the last one and one half months or so: the 9-1-1 folks, all the departments of "general revenue fund" county government (in the context of budget hearings), the Stark Development Board and the like.
But on Tuesday they are having Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero in. The SCPR is wildly excited about this prospect. And so should Stark County citizens/voters be.
If they do their job, these sessions will be mighty uncomfortable for Ferrero inasmuch as The Report believes he has many unanswered questions to deal with. Unfortunately, the work sessions which commissioners use to implement the newly invigorated policy of accountability and transparency, do not allow for questions from citizens or media types. So we are left with the grit or lack thereof on the commissioners part as to whether or not "dig-in" questions are asked and pushed until they are fully and adequately answered.
However, The Report is not optimistic that the commissioners are up to compelling Ferrero to share with the Stark County public all that they want to know.
Commissioner Thomas Bernabei has already let it be known to yours truly that it is likely that a good part, if not all, of the session will be in executive session.
The Report has responded to Bernabei, as do his cohorts, has/have a responsibility to the Stark County public to limit executive session stuff to "truly" confidential material. Undoubtedly, Ferrero is looking for the commissioners to invoke the attorney/client privilege to have "out-of-the-public-view" discussions about his office's work to recover the missing $2.96 million. It is their privilege - not his.
So Tuesday, will - indeed - be a first test of just how open, accountable, and transparent the new regime of commissioners are.
Ferrero's management of the Stark County prosecutor's office has been a favorite topic of the SCPR and Fererro has not liked the scrutinizing The Report has done one little bit.
"Not liked ... one little bit:" - how so?
A source tells The Report that Fererro has gone so far to express his displeasure as to reflect negatively (via sarcasm) on the SCPR with at least one Stark County Common Pleas Court judge.
Moreover, he filed a disciplinary complaint against yours truly about a year ago for the The Report's "media" coverage of his office's prosecution of Marlboro Township Chief of Police Ron Devies and his son Kyle over what was obviously a communication problem that got escalated into the the pair being charged with fourth degree felonies. Fortunately, Stark Common Pleas Judge Lee Sinclair ensured that justice was done and dismissed the case after the prosecution failed to put on a prima facie that shifted the burden of going forward with evidence to the defense. A number of legal observers agree with The Report, the dismissal was a virtual "legal slamdunk."
Disciplinary Counsel dismissed Ferrero's complaint out-of-hand inasmuch as the SCPR is clearly a journalistic effort.
Moreover, let it be said that yours truly has the highest respect for Stark County's administration of justice looking at it from a macro-perspective; witness the outcome of the Davies case. For suggesting otherwise, Ferrero owes yours truly an apology. However, it is clear that John Ferrerro apologizes to no one for anything.
Citizen activist and local attorney Craig T. Conley is another Stark County citizen who has expressed dismay about how Ferrero has handled the public interest in managing the prosecutor's office.
Conley went so far as to initiate a civil case on behalf of Stark's taxpayers against former Stark Treasurer Gary D. Zeigler (whom prosecutors [federal and local] exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing whatsoever) to recover as much of the $2.96 million as possible after demanding that Ferrero proceed, and it became clear to Conley that Ferrero was not about to move anytime soon. Conley feared that Zeigler would transfer assets that might be targets to satisfy civil liability judgments, if judgments are obtained. Zeigler is fighting being held liable and he is attempting to be re-instated as Stark County treasurer.
Ferrero wasn't anymore pleased with Conley than he is with The Report and reacted accordingly in local media.
But Conley's action did get Ferrero moving.
Stark Countians owe Craig Conley a debt of gratitude. BUT FOR the action of Conley, one has to wonder if Ferrero's office would ever have gotten up and moving on the recovery effort.
All of which leads back to the commissioners and Tuesday's work session.
As Ferrero's client and as the stand-in for Stark County citizenry, will they hold Ferrero's feet to the fire in pursuing the $2.96 million (which has already been written off the Stark County accounting books)?
Moreover, will the commissioners (as the client standing-in for the Stark County taxpayer) bend over backwards to reveal as much information that is prudent in the light of pending litigation so that the Stark County public has some inkling of what the prospects are for recovering public money?
Because of the way John Ferrero has handled his office on a whole host of issues reported on and commented upon in these pages, the SCPR is clear that Stark Countians should not be of a mind to retain him as prosecutor come November, 2012 when he, undoubtedly, will run for re-election.
For the time being, however, Stark Countians have to rely on the Stark County commissioners to make John Ferrero open, transparent, and accountable in the financial end of his public stewardship and, to provide as much information as prudent in their effort to recover taxpayer money.
For now, it is too early to tell whether or not the current board of commissioners is more open, transparent, and accountable than former boards. Tuesday's session will go a long way in determining whether or not a new day of openness, transparency, and accountability has in fact dawned.