Monday, March 21, 2011


The current Board of Stark County Commissioners is likely embarked on "Mission Impossible."

After years of deterioration (accentuated by recent events) of the Stark County public's confidence in county government, the board composed of former Canton mayor Janet Creighton, former Canton law director Tom Bernabei and well-liked long term Canton chiropractor Pete Ferguson is embarked on a "barnstorming tour" to re-connect with Stark Countians and thereby restore public trust

The former regime of commissioners (Bosley, Meeks and Ferguson [carried over to the current board] established a Citizens Review Committee after the overwhelming defeat of the commissioners' attempt to retain a 0.50 sales tax "imposed" by then commissioners Bosley, Harmon and Vignos in December, 2008.

Not only was the imposition absolutely the politically wrong thing to do in Stark County,  its retention campaign was couched in repairing a broken 9-1-1.  Half of the proceeds of the imposed tax were for the county's general fund.  One had to dig deep to get to that part of the tax.

That deception was one more step in a parade of events over recent Stark County government history that has undermined Stark County citizen trust in "our" government.

For yours truly, a big factor in building mistrust (going back way before the tax imposition) is how local politicos have - for years -  treated taxpayer funds as a personal fiefdom from which to dispense public monies to their friends, political supporters and - indirectly - their relatives (by having an unrelated fellow office holder do the hiring) by putting them on the public payroll.  These are jobs that are supposed to be available to the taxpaying public-at-large.

Both of Stark County's political parties have and continue to appoint political loyalists to office with little if any regard for their qualifications to hold office.

More than a few Stark Countians believe that former treasurer Gary D. Zeigler was one such appointee.  He was appointed in 1999 to replace Mark Roach who was removed from office for failure to complete investment education requirements for a county treasurer.

On April 1, 2009 (nearly two years now), the news broke that Zeigler's Chief Deputy Vince Frustaci had stolen several ($2.96 in the opinion of federal judge John Adams) millions in Stark County taxpayer money.

While Zeigler has been exonerated by federal and county prosecutors in any involvement in the theft, the State of Ohio Auditor's Office (OAO) issued a report citing Zeigler for deficiencies in providing safeguards for the theft to have occurred in the first place.  Zeigler denied any such deficiencies and vowed to stay in office and did so until August 23rd of 2010 when Commissioners Bosley, Meeks and Ferguson removed him pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 321.38.

But this saga may not be over.  On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court will consider whether or not to restore Zeigler to office.

Since Zeigler was removed from office, a series of replacements (Allbritain, Koher and Zumbar [the permanent replacement?]) have instituted the changes recommended by the OAO and more.  Still, Zumbar admits, more work remains.

The SCPR believes that there are consequences for all the breeches of public trust in county government which have occurred recently and which The Report believes continue to occur in a more subtle way.

For example, it is hard for yours truly to swallow that it is "public service" when a relative of a well-known, politically powerful public official ends up with a highly placed public job having moved from a teaching job that likely paid somewhere the $30,000 plus range (including benefits) to a county government job that pays in the range of $70,000/$75,000 (which includes benefits).

The move can't be public service from a remunerative standpoint a la Mark Kvamme, a California venture capitalist who is serving in the Kasich administration (as JobsOhio czar) for $1 per yer.

A justification of "this is a third generation" public employment doesn't necessarily wash either.  Such could be taken as evidence to the contrary.  Some Stark County families seem to have a sense of entitlement to public jobs. 

The Report's reaction is that if these folks want to justify, obviously they can do so ad nauseam

But for many of us (private sector folks), who, incidentally, do not buy such rationalizations, each time a politically well-connected person is hired in local government - the distrust grows.

If county government finds it imperative to hire a politically well-connected person, then government must step front and center and present its case - in full public view - of reasons why "this particular person" is so crucial to the job being filled that no search was conducted of the Stark County community-at-large and beyond.

Otherwise, the hire feeds the public perception/suspicion that "inside politics" was the primary reason for the hire and one more chapter and verse example of why "not" to trust government and accordingly be very sparing of supporting government financially at the ballot box.

The SCPR applauds the effort of the commissioners for requiring county officials to respond to the Citizens Review Committee report.  Many have done so and effectively so.  However, more work needs to be done with the Stark County clerk of courts (Nancy Reinbold) in terms of her explaining why she cannot be more specific as to how much money is outstanding and payable to the Stark County treasury for the county's court operations.

Also, the commissioner deserve plaudits for being out in the community meeting with Stark Countians on their turf.

What follows is a video clip of Commissioner Tom Bernabei outlining goals of the commissioners (in restoring trust) with Jackson Township residents on March 3rd.

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