Wednesday, November 23, 2011
WHAT STARK COUNTY POLITICIANS SHOULD STARK COUNTIANS BE THANKFUL FOR IN 2011?
2011 is the SCPR's fourth annual Thanksgiving Day listing of those Stark County politicians who made Stark a better place to live in by actions taken this year.
NUMBER ONE - RANDY GONZALEZ
On October 31st he led the Stark Dems in making Republican Alex Zumbar the Dems' selection to be Stark County treasurer.
In doing so he spared Stark County further travail on the - on again, off again - replacement of Gary Zeigler as Stark County treasurer.
The SCPR will not, once again, go through the agonizing details of the circumstances of Zeigler's removal from public office by county commissioners (August 23, 2010), his reinstatement by the Ohio Supreme Court (June 23, 2011) and his retirement/resignation in October of this year.
Here is a link (CLICK HERE) that readers can go to and refresh themselves on the twists and turns of what local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley has termed as being "Zeiglergate."
When the Democrats met on October 31st, there was considerable resistance to the notion that they would select a Republican to fill out the unexpired portion of Zeigler's term (September, 2013).
Alex Zumbar was the Republican selectee (In September, 2010) to run for the office (in the November, 2010 election) on it being vacated by the commissioners in late August in their removal of Zeigler.
Ken Koher was selected by Democrats as their appointee to serve as Stark County treasurer beginning later in September. Moreover, the Dems selected Koher as their nominee for the November, 2010 election which he lost to Zumbar.
When Zeigler retired/resigned on October 19th of this year, the county commissioners appointed Zumbar as "interim" treasurer pending a permanent selection by the Stark Dems which was their right by virtue of Zeigler having been a Democrat officeholder.
And that brings us to October 31st and the stellar job of leadership demonstrated by Gonzalez in the face of considerable opposition.
All Stark Countians should be grateful for Gonzales stepping forward and exercising leadership which likely cost his political party control of the Stark treasury for years to come.
NUMBER TWO - ALEX ZUMBAR
Like Democrat Gonzalez, there is nothing non-partisan about Alex Zumber. He is a Republican through and through.
Additionally, like Gonzalez he has a demonstrated capacity to rise above politics and do what the best thing is for Stark County.
Zumbar has been through a lot.
Elected to office as Stark County treasurer (November, 2010). Then out of office (June 23, 2011) as a consequence of the Ohio Supreme Court reinstating Gary Zeigler. And then back in office on October 19th via the commissioners appointment as interim and then as the full-fledged treasurer on October 31st when the Stark Democrats selected him to fill in the remainder of Zeigler's term.
Undoubtedly, the back and forth has been difficult for him. But he maintained a stiff upper lip and got through it.
Not only did he show resilience. He, picking up where Democrat Ken Koher had left off, on his winning of office in November, 2010 went to work instituting many structural, policy, practice and procedural changes in the Stark County treasury to ensure that a Vince Frustaci-esque theft of taxpayer moneys could never happen again.
Moreover, Zumbar went to work in proposing and helping establish a Stark County-based land bank program to identify condemned, abandoned and to be torn down properties to be put to more productive use.
Picking up on local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley's focus on the fact that some $40 million of back property taxes are owed to Stark County and its political subdivisions, Zumbar has put together lists of properties for the Stark County prosecutor's office to pursue in order to get much needed revenue into the hands of the county and the subdivisions.
This despite being bounced in and out of office like a yo-yo.
Indeed Stark Countians should be thankful that Alex Zumbar had the fortitude to stand tall and do what's good for Stark County.
NUMBER THREE - ALAN HAROLD
The SCPR views Stark County Auditor Alan Harold as a Republican enthusiast.
But that is okay.
Beyond that, The Report is convinced that Harold is determined to do the right thing for Stark Countians who use the services of the auditor's office.
Harold was one of the more indignant Stark Countians (both as a candidate for auditor and as an elected official) at the what he has described as the failure of former Stark County Treasurer to implement adequate structural, policy, practice and procedural reforms while Zeigler was office (1999 - 2011) to have prevented Vince Frustaci from stealing Stark County taxpayer money.
Harold showed spunk and courage in standing fast in the face of Zeigler being restored to office on June 23rd of this year in withholding Zeigler's pay and his use of county provided equipment (i.e. telephones and computer) in the face of Zeigler not being able to obtain bonding that is statutorily required by Ohio before one can serve as a county treasurer in Ohio.
It could be that Harold's steadfastness was instrumental in Zeigler being willing to negotiate with county officials regarding his eventual retirement/resignation from office on October 19, 2011.
Another impressive thing about Harold was his persistence in running for office.
In 2008 he endeavored to run against Zeigler. Harold has told The Report that he was all set to run when word came down from his then employer that if he persisted in running it would cost him his job.
Having a family to support, Harold had no choice but withdraw. However, he came back as a candidate for the Stark County Educational Service Board in 2009. While he lost that race, once the Frustaci revelation took place he found a seized an opportunity to run for county auditor.
Rightly or wrongly, it appears that the Stark County voting public felt that the then Auditor Kim Perez (a Democrat), which many Stark Countians perceived to have close political ties with Zeigler, did not act decisively enough when he had questions about the accuracy of data coming from the Stark treasury to the auditor's office and turned to Harold by electing him to replace Perez.
The stamina of Alan Harold is a quality to be admired and the SCPR believes the Stark County public should be pleased that Alan Harold is now serving as their auditor.
NUMBERS FOUR & FIVE
THOMAS BERNABEI & JANET WEIR CREIGHTON
The SCPR writes about Thomas Bernabei and Janet Weir Creighton in tandem because together they have done more than any other county officials to begin the process of restoring trust to Stark County government.
The Report has been covering Stark County government and politics nearly four years and has seen a number of commissioners come and go.
None of the predecessors to Bernabei and Creighton stack up in terms of credibility to this duo.
Because of their considerable political and governmental experience, Bernabei (a Democrat) and Creighton (a Republican) immediately grasped the devastation that the Frustaci theft of county funds brought to the public perception as to whether or not county office holders were doing enough to protect the Stark County public interest.
Contemporary erosion of confidence in county officials likely started with the decision of the then Commissioners Bosley, Harmon (both Democrats) and Vignos (a Republican) in December, 2008 to "impose" a 0.5% county sales tax purportedly to fix a broken countywide 9-1-1 system.
And The Report believes that such was one of the purposes of the imposition. However, there was more to the story. Half of the 0.5% it came out was to go into the county general fund.
Well, the general fund part of the tax was not equally publicized with the 9-1-1 part and once a group of civic activists figured that out, any chance the imposition had to go unchallenged was finished. The tax probably didn't have any chance anyway because the commissioners took away the right of Stark Countians to vote on it.
We all know the rest of the story. A committee entitled "Vote No Increased Taxes" was formed and that was it for the imposed tax. In November, 2009 the imposed tax was repealed by a huge margin due to the effort of the "Vote nos."
On top of the imposed sales tax of December, 2008 comes the revelation of the Frustaci theft of county taxpayer money on April 1, 2009.
It did not take any time at all for everyday Stark Countians to conclude that county officials were not doing a very good job protecting taxpayers' interest.
Blame - in the sense of deficient oversight - seemingly was being cast in every direction among many county officials who had some sort of connection with the Stark treasury. The commissioners were right in the middle of the blame game.
With the election of November, 2010 Stark Countians were obviously looking for candidates who were not seen as being part of a voter perceived "good old boy" network as being in place at the Stark County office building.
Republicans were especially in a great position to benefit and they did. Creighton (previously county recorder, county auditor and mayor of Canton) won easily over Commissioner Steve Meeks. Alex Zumbar had a relatively comfortable win over Democrat Ken Koher for treasurer and Alan Harold dispatched Democrat Kim Perez in the auditor's race.
Up until the 2010 election, Perez had been one of the Democrats leading vote getters.
Even Tom Bernabei (long time law director for Canton) had a difficult time winning. Had an independent candidate not entered the race, the SCPR believes Republican James Walters (a Jackson Township trustee) would have won the second commissioner race.
But Bernabei won (taking office later in November) and with Creighton embarked on a series of changes in how the commissioners ran the board of commissioners and thereby started a slow trek towards rebuilding a modicum of trust with Stark Countians.
They instituted twice a week work sessions in which they openly and thoroughly gathered information from other county officials in the public view.
They initiated a series 21 visits beginning in February of 2011 and lasting through June whereby the visited about every nook and cranny of Stark County.
Chances are that if one were to call the commissioners (especially Creighton), the voice that you will hear on the other end of the phone will be the commissioner; not an office administrative aide.
They promise to keep up with the improved transparency, accessibility and communication.
These commissioners are not perfect by any stretch, but they are a vast improvement over prior boards that have served in recent years.
For this Stark Countians should be thankful on this Thanksgiving day.