Wednesday, November 30, 2011

(VIDEO) WITH THE PASSAGE OF THE 0.5% SALES TAX ON NOVEMBER 8TH, ARE THE COMMISSIONERS ALREADY FORGETTING THE LESSONS LEARNED IN THE PRE-TAX PASSAGE DAYS?


As readers of the SCPR know, yours truly is impressed with the turnaround that Commissioners Bernabei and Creighton have brought to the Stark County commissioners' office with their coming on board in November, 2010 and January, 2011; respectively.

Compared to prior boards, this current board of commissioners is much more accessible, informative, communicative and transparent.

However, keep in mind that they have been under the gun to get a levy passed to avoid a county government financial catastrophe come 2012 and beyond.

With a prior board (Bosley, Harmon and Vignos) having imposed a 0.5% sales tax in December, 2008 (which a citizens group got repealed in November, 2009) and with the troubles in the Stark County treasury (revealed in April, 2009), the trust level in Stark County government was probably at an all time low.  Consequently, Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson knew they had a lot of repairing of the public trust to do before they could even think about putting a new levy on.

In a remarkably short period of time (less than a year), commissioners were able to restore enough trust to persuade Stark Countians to pass a 0.5% sales tax on this past November 8th.


If memory serves correctly (as to the date), yours truly asked the commissioners on the 9th whether or not Stark Countians could expect a continuation of:
  • work sessions (which Bernabei and Creighton instituted) and the transparency they offer (Monday and Tuesday of each week), 
  • community meetings (21 from February through June of 2011) designed to promote dialogue (exchange of viewpoints) between the governed and the governors, 
  • open and accessible communication (e.g. Commissioner Creighton answers her own phone), and a
  • drive towards greater efficiency and accountability in county employment.
Predictably, they reaffirmed their commitment to the pre-tax county government environment.

Of course, words are one thing, but actions are another.

The Report is somewhat concerned that the commissioners may be losing their zeal for maintaining all of the positive changes they have brought to county government.

Admittedly, the evidence is thin that there may be some slippage occurring already so soon after the sales tax victory.  However, the SCPR in bringing the matter up now is into the "a ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" mode.



On November 21st Stark County Benefits Coordinator Carol Hayn was brought into a Monday work session by commissioners to talk about the county's health insurance program (non-bargaining employees - 705 in number) and specifically to address the matter of how much employees should pay for insurance (Stark County is a self insurer except for catastrophic [in excess of $150,000 per claim] coverage) and what percentage of the premium the employees themselves should pay (currently at 10%).

The commissioners took in Hayn's information and recommendation (no increase in the total premium, but no recommendation on whether or not the 10% should be increased) and said they would decide the matter later. 

It was not all that alarming that the commissioners did not discuss in public view their thoughts on that Monday.  Perhaps they needed additional information, input, et cetera.  However, it is not unusual for commissioners (especially Creighton) to give a first impression on the matter being considered.

What might be a cause for concern was that on Wednesday the 23rd (the regular commissioner meeting day) a motion was made to keep the percentage paid by affected county employees at 10 percent and passed without discussion and without comment as to the merits/demerits of raising the rate unless one thinks that the term of years that a rate is in place or a reference to the "unstable financial condition of the county" is such a discussion.  The SCPR does not.

After the meeting, Commissioner Bernabei did address the questions of media present including yours truly.  The Report's take on Bernabei's answers is that they were of a superficial variety and indicative, perhaps, that the commissioners did not consider seriously the possibility of requiring county employees to pay more.

Hayn had presented data on Monday that an increase to 16% would save county government some $217,000.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently put out a report showing that in the private sector employees pay an average of 27% of their health insurance premiums.

But the commissioners did not discuss in public in much detail as to why there should not have been an increase for 2012.  Bernabei did say (is sort of an after thought fashion) as justification for holding the rate at 10% that employees have not had a pay increase in several years.

The question the SCPR has is this:  why didn't the commissioners discuss the matter in a public meeting and provide chapter and verse detail why Stark County employees should maintain their 17% advantage on their health insurance contribution rate over private sector employees?

Yours truly spoke with local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley (he led the effort to repeal the imposed sales tax of 2008) earlier this week and he says that he believes that the commissioners are on a track to forget past lessons learned (on the trust issue)and that within a year or so they will be asking Stark Countians for additional sales tax money without having changed/negotiated or encouraging other county departments of government to change/negotiate the formula of employee benefits (primarily pensions) and their contribution rates for health insurance/retirement plans.


The commissioners may have indepth reasons why they chose stay at the 10% rate but they chose not to share them with the Stark County public.

Could it be that they are in a mode of backsliding on the matter of transparency in county government?

CHRISTINA HAGAN AND THE REPOSITORY COLLABORATE ON PUBLIC RELATIONS PIECE?


Running for retention as a state representative (50th Ohio District - Stark County) on her record, Republican Christina Hagan needs ratchet things up on the positive side.  Otherwise, if the Democrats run anyone with any sort of political heft, she may never become the elected state rep.



As things stand now, she has at least three huge negatives on her record.

She voted yes for the anti-collective bargaining bill (Senate Bill 5) which went down in flames in a voter referendum on November 8th as state issue 2.

She voted for the 2012-2013 state of Ohio biennium budget which is going to cost Stark County local governments millions of dollars over the next two years.

And she voted to split Stark County into three congressional districts and then tried along with Stark County Republican Chairman Jeff Matthews to spin the slicing and dicing of Stark as being a good thing.

Hagan is proving with her legislative initiative a state legislator she is not. 

She has sponsored, as a primary sponsor, four bills since her appointment by the Republican Ohio House Caucus on March 2, 2011, to wit:  (Source)
  • May 24, 2011 - H.B. No. 236 - To enact section 5533.767 of the Revised Code to designate a portion of United States Route 30 within Stark County only as the "Staff Sgt. Kevin J. Kessler Memorial Highway."  As of November 29, 2011,  it sits in the Transportation, Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee with "no" action taken.
  • June 21, 2011 - H.B No. 274 - To amend sections 122.013, 122.94, and 125.112 of the Revised Code to require the Department of Development to report economic development award information to the General Assembly and the public and to remove the responsibility of the Attorney General to publish economic development award reports.  As of November 29, 2011, it sits in the Economic and Small Business Development Committee with "no" action taken.
  • September 1, 2011 - H.B. No. 311 - To enact section 5533.768 of the Revised Code to designate a portion of U.S. Route 62 in Stark County as the "U.S. Army Spc. Zachary Grass Memorial Highway."  As of November 29, 2011,  it sits in the Transportation, Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee with "no" action taken.
  • November 2, 2011 - H.B. No 368 - To amend sections 101.82 and 103.13 and to enact sections 103.35 to 103.39 and 107.036 of the Revised Code to create the Long-range Financial Outlook Council for the purpose of informing the public and the General Assembly about the financial status of the state by studying financial and other conditions and issuing an annual long-range financial outlook report.  As of  November 29, 2011, it sits in the Finance and Appropriations Committee with "no" action taken.
It is fine for Hagan to want to honor America's fallen heroes.  Moreover, it is okay to want to change who keeps tabs on Ohio's economic development awards and to have a nonpartisan agency of Ohio government tells us all what will be an "educated" guess on Ohio's long range financial outlook.  But she should tack on a number of additional items that need urgent attention for the well being of Stark County.

Recognizing that she is a political novice and has very limited capacity to do heavy legislative lifting, the SCPR suggests she tackle just one additional thing for now.
  • Take the list of unfunded state of Ohio mandates that Stark County Common Pleas Judge Taryn Heath gave to her fellow legislators (Oelslager, Schuring and Slesnick) and initiating legislation to undo them.
For it appears that neither Oelslager, Schuring nor Slesnick are going to be getting anything done to alleviate these burdensome problems for Stark County.

Despite the passage of the 0.50 sales tax on November 8th, Stark County is still in dire financial straits.

Apparently, Hagan contacted Robert Wang of The Repository about her sponsorship of, as a co-prime-sponsor, H.B. No. 368 and induced him to do a public relations-esque piece (November 27th). 

Long range financial prospects guessing is some sort of urgent priority for the well being of Ohio and by inclusion Stark County?

The SCPR contacted one Ohio think tank for an analysis of the importance of H.B. No 368 in the legislative scheme of things.

Response:  Where's the value added?  Hagan's (or any legislator, for that matter) should be devoting her legislative energies towards covering the $2 billion shortfall in Ohio's educational funding that is going to hit Ohio's school districts in the new fiscal cycle (2012 - 2013).

It would be interesting to know why Wang thought this meaningless piece of legislation deserved the attention he paid to it.  A slow news day?

Reportedly, Governor Kasich was not real impressed with H.B. No. 368 and let it be known to her.

But this is what you get when you take a college student and restaurant server and put her in the Ohio Legislature.

If she lacks direction on what to do legislatively with some sort of purpose, Hagan could comfortably follow the agenda of the business/Republican oriented Ohio Chamber of Commerce 2011-12 legislative agenda by seeking to take one of its suggested bills, let's say in the area of "Reform:  Reform Ohio's state and local governments into effective 21st century institutions" and go with it.

Now that would be a real achievement!



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

RICHARD REGULA AGAIN? AN EXERCISE IN POLITICAL FUTILITY?


Former Republican Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula (2003 - 2006) is itching to get back to holding elective office.

If he is to succeed, he has a huge hill to climb.  He has taken out petitions to run against incumbent commissioner and Democrat Tom Bernabei or incumbent commissioner and Democrat Pete Ferguson.


Back in February he tried to succeed the then 50th Ohio House District Republican state Representative Todd Snitchler (selected by Governor Kasich to be Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman) only to lose out to political neophyte Christina Hagan.

He lost in November, 2006 to then political upstart Nimishillen Townshp Trustee Todd Bosley in his bid to be re-elected county commissioner having first won the post in 2002 in defeating Richard Mallonn (currenty Canton city auditor).


In sort of a take off of the games the Republican candidates for county commissioner were playing in the 2010 elections in which Jackson Township Trustee James Walters, now Stark County Commissioner Janet Creighton and Lake resident Dean Windham were jockeying back and forth as to who was going to run against whom (Democrats Steven Meeks and Tom Bernabei), Regula has taken out two petitions as to weigh where he has the best possibility of once again becoming a Stark County commissioners.

As the filing deadline is not until December 7th, Regula likely is first looking at whether or not another Republican will file to run for one of the commissioner seats because he may not be able to survive a Republican primary.  Especially so, if Walters decides to try again.  There is little doubt to yours truly that Walters would easily defeat Regula.

By the SCPR's calculation, Walters would have won in 2008 in his run against Bernabei had it not been for a independent candidate running in the race who The Report figures drained off votes from Walters enough so to cause his defeat.

In addition for having a reputation for being a lazy campaigner, Regula also in Republican Party circles has a reputation for being the Democrats favorite Republican.   He is not a infrequent face to show up at Democratic candidate fundraisers.  Recently, he showed up at Massillon Mayor-elect Kathy Catazaro-Perry's during her election run up against Republican Lee Brunckhart.

The Report is told that Regula was being touted by former Stark County Chairman Johnnie A. Maier, Jr as being his candidate for commissioner come 2012.  One has to believe that Maier's seeming endorsement was all in jest, but maybe not.

The SCPR's assessment is that Regula (if he has no primary opposition or survives a primary election) can pick his "political" poison as that is exactly what he will be doing no matter which direction he goes.  As The Report sees Regula, he cannot defeat either Bernabei or Ferguson.

The degree of success that Richard Regula has had (the 2002 election) can be attributed to running on his congressman father's name (long time Congressman Ralph Regula who retired in 2008), but he proved in he could muff that advantage witness his unexpected loss to Bosley.

To add insult to injury, he loses out to Christina Hagan.

Normally, he could expect help from other Republican officeholders, but The Report believes what support he would get will definitely be of the low profile nature.  Alan Harold (Republican Stark County auditor), Alex Zumbar (Republican Stark County treasurer) and, of course, Republican Commissioner Janet Creighton would not want to offend Bernabei and Ferguson by being rabidly for the Republican: Regula or anyone else.

It is looking to the SCPR that, barring something unforeseen, Bernabei and Ferguson (though Democrats in a time when Democrats are not favored countywide) will be in good shape to retain their seats.

Such has to be comforting to Stark County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Gonzalez inasmuch The Report believes the Democrats will have a very difficult time holding on to the prosecutor's office (if the Republicans will man up with a viable candidate) and the sheriff's office.

As for Richard Regula, the 2012 elections will likely be the end of the line for the Regula name in countywide Stark County politics.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A BATTLE FOR THE "HEART & SOUL" OF STARK STATE (MISSION WISE) AND STARK COUNTY (ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WISE) UNDERWAY?


Over the weekend Jeff Gauger executive editor of The Repoitory wrote a blog about a political struggle going on amidst the Stark College board of trustees.  (Jeff Gauger:  Impasse keeps top Stark State job open, November 25th)

As usual, Gauger mostly misses the most significant point of the fight.

As the SCPR sees it, the high significance of the turmoil is whether or not Stark State is going "to be all it can be" in a qualitative sense or is it going to continue its quest to be the one of the largest - quantitatively - community college in all of America.

Gauger is correct as far as he goes.  The fuss does have an "insider"/ "outsider" aspect to it.  Moreover, politicians are weighing in on the selection process thereby making the outcome likely politically driven rather than merit driven.

But the drawing of sides has much more portent to it than just being a political fight.  The outcome likely will determine whether or not Stark State can become a premier "true" technical university or remain a degree/certification mill that fails to make much of an impact as a first-rate technical institution of higher learning which could form a meaningful base for the Stark County economy to take off from.

As far as The Report is concerned, those lined up with prior Stark State administrator Para Jones (the "insider" - now president of Spartanburg SC Community College is favored by those who by and large  want to hang onto the current "quantification" model first and foremost with them seeing no need to fix what isn't broke.

Those lined up with Quintin Bullock (Schenectady NY County Community College) seem, to The Report, to have as their priority for Stark State College becoming "all it can be" as a qualitative high-tech technical college.  He is the visionary one that Gauger refers to in his blog.

If the choice is between the two, then Stark Countians will know by the choice that Stark State is headed either onward and forward as becoming the biggest (Jones) or onward and forward as realizing its "highest and best" use (Bullock) as an institution of higher learning.

The middling ground would be to choose Dorey Diab (an engineer by educational background and currently in the Stark State administration) who likely will work hard to strike a balance between quantity and quality.  While preferable to what The Report thinks Jones would bring; not top drawer stuff.

The SCPR believes that Republican Jones will win out.

Governor Kasich and Ralph Regula (R - Narvarre - retired 16th district congressman) will be able to twist the arm of ? (believed to be Jeffrey Halm by yours truly) to get Jones the fourth vote.

Being the insider he is (privy to what is going on in executive session, even if by indirection - as he claims), Gauger could tell Stark Countians chapter and verse exactly who is supporting whom, but that would gain him the ire of the reported upon and he wouldn't want to jeopardize future sources for himself and his paper.

But it may not be that hard to figure out without the inside knowledge that Gauger surely must possess.

As The Report computes the votes, this is how yours truly believes the vote by board of trustees went and hence the stalemate:




The uncommitted board member?

The SCPR figures that to be Jeffrey Halm.  Could he be the tipping point that will favor Dorey Diab?  The SCPR thinks not (reference Republican politicians arm twisting for Jones), but if the "uncommitted one" has enough backbone, then - out of frustration, all might be willing to settle for Diab.


The basis for The Report's caculation?

For Jones.  

Well,  Jonas and Schweizer were recently appointed to the board by Republican Governor John Kasich.  The SCPR refuses to believe that Kasich (being the consummate Republican politician he is would have make the Jonas Schweizer appointments without having a commitment for his appointees to vote his way on key board of trustee decisions.


As for Groh being on the pro-Jones list, it seems perfectly predictable to The Report that she line up with politicians Kasich and retired Congressman Ralph Regula (R - Navarre).

Both Kasich and Regula are extremely tight with the Timken family and their Timken Company for which Groh serves as a vice president.  Need The Report go any further in the Groh analysis?  Just for the heck of it, here is an Akron Beacon Journal headline (and some subtext) from April, 2011:

Akron Beacon Journal: Kasich Praises Stark State, Timken for Collaboration

Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited the North Canton college Thursday and touted the partnership between Stark State and the Timken Co.  (Morgan Day, April 22, 2011)

For Bullock:

For starters, Fonda Williams, II works for Mayor William J. Healy, II of Canton (as Gauger put it:  Stark County's "uber-Democrat."  And we all know (especially Democrat Commissioner Tom Bernabei) that one does not go counter to the wishes of Mayor Healy or you will find yourself on the outside looking in.

So count Williams in for sure to be one of the supporters of  Democrat Bullock. 

But how about Thomas and Maurer?  Why include them as supporting Bullock?

Kind of by process of elimination.

Jonas, Schweizer and Groh for Jones.


Williams a definite for Bullock.


That leaves Thomas, Maurer and Halm as the three unaccounted for.  The SCPR reasons that Thomas and Maurer have been on the board with Williams longer than Halm and therefore are more likely in the name of collegiality (which develops between board members, in the experience of The Report) it is likely that Thomas and Maurer vote with Williams to support Bullock.

That, in the thinking of the SCPR, leaves Halm as the trustee most likely to be holding out on supporting either candidate and thereby the butt of political pressure to commit to either Jones or Bullock.

However, either Thomas or Maurer could be the "uncommitted" one.  Again, The Report thinks Halm is the one.

Whatever the politics are that are at play and there is no doubt plenty of political pressure being applied, there will be major consequences for Stark State and the greater Stark County community on the result of this political fight now going on.

The SCPR's point of view that the greater good for Stark County is likely to come from a Bullock presidency over Jones.

He is more likely to seize the day with the technical side of the college over the vocational school side.

Very alarming about State State over all is its graduation rate.  While administrators brag about the growth during O'Donnell's term from 5,600 to 15,400 the say nary a word about the 7% graduation rate on the associate degree program.


One has to wonder how many jobs there actually are in Stark County for even the 1,000 or so who graduate within two years.  Many of those - to the degree- they exist have to be relatively low paying.

Hardly the recipe for an economic recovery in Stark County.

The Report has frequently written that the community college of Stark State should be spun off and blended in with Kent Stark.

Stark State should return to its roots of being the Stark State of Technolgy with its fuel cell and wind harnessing programs and the likes of its partnership with Timken leading the way to the development of high tech applications which generate business with high paying jobs right here in Stark County.

In the final analysis we are about to find out about the quality of the Stark County based leadership on the Stark State board of trustees.

Will they give in to the Kasichs/Regulas of the world and perpetuate the continuing Stark County slide into the economic/financial doldrums by appointing Jones president?

Probably!!!

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 Ziegler 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.

So?

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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS MAY DECIDE TODAY WHETHER OR NOT TO INCREASE COUNTY EMPLOYEES CONTRIBUTION RATE FOR HEALTH INSURANCE


On November 8th Stark Countians passed a sorely needed sales tax of 0.5%.


One of the selling points of  Issue 29 by commissioners is the frugality with which they handle county general funds.

As early as today (but it could be next Wednesday), the commissioners will be put to the test on whether or not to raise the contribution of county employees for their share of premium payment for health insurance provided by their respective Stark County departments of government. Their contribution rate currently stands at 10%.

County Benefits Coordinator Carol Hayn (at yesterday's commissioner work session) recommended to commissioners that they maintain the annual premium at $14,580 ($1,215.00 monthly) for a family plan and $5,700 ($475.00 monthly for an individual plan.  Indications are that commissioners will follow Hayn's recommendation.

However, Hayn made no recommendation for the employee contribution in terms of an increase or no increase in the 10% contribution rate.

Stark County is a self-insurer on the first $150,000 per year, per claim of heath care costs at which point catastrophic commercial coverage kicks in.

Hayn did provide data upon which the commissioners can ruminate upon in arriving at their decision on the employee contribution rate for 2012 and beyond.

If commissioners were to increase the employee's contribution to 16%, Stark County's general fund would be $217,764 richer.


Some 705 county employees (non-bargaining units only) will be affected by whatever the commissioners decide.

Bargaining units negotiate the employee contribution rate in collective bargaining which stands - on average - at about 6%

Chief Administrator Micheal Hanke said at yesterday's meeting that a goal of county officials is to get the 6% bargaining unit rate up to the non-bargaining employee rate.

The SCPR went out and got some data from the private sector so that readers could have something to compare against in assessing whether commissioners should increase the 10% upwards, and, if so, by how much.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (Kaiser) and the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) recently put out a report that is instructive.  The following graphic shows that - on average - employees in the private sector pay 27% of there health insurance premium.


Benefits Coordinator Hayn tells the SCPR that she knows of government units which require employees to pay 15% of the premium cost.

Stark County employees have seen a steady rise in their contribution rate since 2007.  Prior to 2007 they paid nothing.  But in 2007 commissioners imposed a 3% contribution rate followed up by annual increases ever since.


Another factor for commissioners to consider is that county employees have had no pay increase for several years.

So the framework is set up. 

Factors militating against an increase:
  • no pay raises for several years
  • Stark County's bargaining units only pay 6% on average
  • five (5) consecutive increase from 0% to 10%
Factors favoring an increase:
  • commissioners duty of frugality to Stark County taxpayers
  • Stark County employees below other government workers in contribution rate who pay as high as 15%
  • Stark County employees dramatically below what private sector workers pay (average about 27%)
As readers can see, the commissioners do not have an easy decision to make.

Moreover, you can weigh-in.  Undoubtedly, they would be delighted to hear from you.  Here is contact information for your Stark County commissioners:


Monday, November 21, 2011

A HOUSE CLEANING UNDERWAY IN MASSILLON: "DAVID MALEY" FORMER STARK CO. AUDITOR KIM PEREZ EMPLOYEE & PAL OF JOHNNIE A. MAIER, JR TO BECOME COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR?



As current Safety-Service Director Mike Loudiana tells it, the incoming Catazaro-Perry and his successor-designate George Maier (brother of Massillon Clerk of Courts Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. who the SCPR sees as "the power behind the throne") were not interested in taking him up on an offer to sit down with them work out a smooth transition from the Cicchinelli administration to Catazaro-Perry's.

The SCPR finds the Loudiana reported brush off interesting in light of Saturday's editorial in The Massillon Independent which seems to blame the abrasive relationship between Cicchinelli and Catazaro-Perry totally on the mayor, to wit:

However, the mayor’s refusal to make the administrative transition to the mayor-elect as smooth as possible, and his implication that there are deep, dark secrets surrounding her team only  will serve to sully his legacy in the city to which he has devoted his professional life for more than three decades.  (emphasis added)
Unless The Inde's words:
[c]oincidentally, or possibly not, Mayor Frank Cicchinelli complemented an Inde reporter at city hall Friday for “beginning to connect the dots,” clearly referring to the story about George Maier.   

can somehow be tortured into "the mayor's refusal to make the administrative transition to the mayor-elect as smooth as possible,"  it is unclear from the four corners of the editorial how the editor(s) can make the leap they do in the editorial.


There is no doubt that Mayor Cicchinelli is smarting from the Catazaro-Perry defeat.

From what the SCPR can see, on the Catazaro-Perry side of things, her supporters seem to be rubbing it in.


Take George Maier's statement given to Inde reporter Matt Rink:

Kathy’s got one shot here.  She won the election almost by a landslide, 65 percent. That was a message from the voters to fix things, change things, take our city back.
 Hmm?

Again, the language:  "... [B]y a landslide, 65 percent. ... "  "take our city back."
Reeks of arrogance, no?  Suggests, a housecleaning, no?  


So the truth of the matter likely is that neither side has any use for the other and will be holding their respective noses  when anywhere near the other.


Work together "to make a transition as smooth as possible?"  You've got to be kidding! 


Meanwhile, Cantazaro-Perry continues on in a housecleaning vein.


The SCPR hears that David Maley (husband of Johnnie A. Maier, Jr employee Tammy Maley) is set to replace Aane Aaby as Community Development Director.
Maley is the one-time chief operative of Kim Perez when Perez was Stark County auditor who was swept out of office by Republican Alan Harold in the wake of a Stark County voter reaction to what local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley termed as "Zeiglergate." (click on this LINK for background material)


No surprise here, The Report expects quite a number of Maier political comrades to surface in a Catazaro-Perry administration.


Reportedly Ken Koher (a former Stark County treasurer in the stream of successions of Gary Zeigler as county treasurer) will become Catazaro-Perry's part-time budget director not finance director as reported in area media.  The Report understands that elected Massillon Auditor Jayne Ferrero handles Massillon's finance duties.



It appears that no Cicchinelli administration leadership types will make it into the Catazaro-Perry administration.  



Of course that is the mayor-elect's right.  But is it a wise thing to do in order to effect a smooth transition for the benefit of the citizens of Massillon?


In another interesting development at last night's Massillon City Council meeting it appears that Catazaro-Perry (as a councilperson) attempted to ramrod (in the view of some) an income tax credit through council.  (City council nixes tax-credit proposal, Matt Rink, The Independent, 11/21/2011).


Catzaro-Perry denies that there was any attempt to ramrod the credit through council but when you have your to be chief administrator George Maier chortling about a 65% win and "tak[ing] our city back," it is not much of a stretch to believe ramrodding was in fact what Catazaro-Perry along with her allies Anderson and Townsend were up to.


Knowing the likes of Catazaro-Perry's chief supporters (i.e. Johnnie A. Maier, Jr and Shane Jackson) as the SCPR does, Monday night's move had to be the work product of this pair getting into the ear of the mayor-elect.


Massillonians should get used to loyalist and power politics as standard fare as such appears to be what the powers/political operatives behind Kathy Catazaro-Perry are all about.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

COULD A SUB-TITLE FOR KATHY CATAZARO-PERRY'S ELECTION AS MAYOR OF MASSILLON BE: A Tuscarawas Township Takeover of Massillon?


In hindsight, outgoing Mayor Francis H. Cicchinelli, Jr. likely cooked his political goose in terms of continuing as mayor of Massillon in the summer of 2010 when he tried to annex the Tuslaw (Tuscarawas Township) schools in order to get at some $120,000 in school employee income tax money.

Earlier in 2010 when he picked off the R.G. Drage Career Center for about $70,000 in additional revenues for Massillon, there was no one to oppose him other than the school employees themselves who come from all over Stark County if not beyond.

But Tuscarawas Township was a different matter.

Communities like Tuscarawas are some of the most zealous about their schools being geographically, politically and government-wise within the boundaries of the actual community.

Tuscarawas has a unique factor about it in that it is also the home of long time Cicchinelli political adversary Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. (Massillon clerk of courts and former chairman of the Stark County Democratic Party).

Maier had to break out in a huge smile when he learned of Cicchinelli's plan to take the "pride and joy" of Tuscarawas and make it part of Massillon.  For, being the astute politician he is, he had to know instantly that had Mayor Frank Cicchinelli right where he wanted him.

Where's that?

Right in the bullseye sights of Tuscarawas residents who, though not eligible to vote in Massillon elections, had been riled up by the Cicchinelli power move and came out in significant numbers and with great political intensity to aid Maier political devotee Kathy Catazaro-Perry in her May, 2011 Democratic Party primary quest to unseat the mayor.


Could it be that the irate Tuscarawas mustangs were the reason why 344 more Massillonians said they preferred Catazaro-Perry over the 24 year reigning monarch of Massillon?

And the larger part of the story might be how Maier has sat "as snug as a bug in rug" in his Tuscarawas Township home, a township in which his wife serves as the elected fiscal officer, and where his children attended Tuslaw schools and parlayed this secure base of operations (aided by being the chairman of the Stark County Democratic Party for a number of years) into control of Massillon city government via the election of his political protege Kathy Catazaro-Perry and in terms of his own election as clerk of courts (in his third term) along with having at one other high Massillon official in elected office.

A case of the country-bumpkin-appearing Maier besting city-boy-sophisticate Cicchinelli and the city-boy handed the victory to country-bumpkin boy on a silver platter?

While not everybody in Tuscarawas is enamored with Maier, he has had enough support to have had a comfortable cover to operate from.

Make no mistake about it, Maier is no country-bumpkin.  He rivals, probably surpasses, Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II in political knowhow.

Healy is very obvious about his political manipulations and power moves whereas Maier is content to be behind the curtain a la the Wizard of Oz.  Those audacious enough not to please Johnnie,  can expect

And, Maier, in orchestrating (along with his political appendage Shane Jackson [chief deputy clerk of courts and political director of the Stark County Democratic Party and all around Maier "go-fer"]) Catazaro-Perry's victory was a demonstration of his political wizardry.

As the SCPR has written many times - that if elected, whereas Kathy Catazaro-Perry will be the de jure (i.e. "as a matter of law") mayor of Massillon; Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. (JAM) will be the de facto (i.e. "as a matter of fact") mayor of Massillon.  These political allies likely will operate in a Kitchen Cabinet fashion (a collection of unofficial "realpolitk" advisers [i.e. the Maiers and their close friends e.g. the Jacksons, the Elums, et cetera] a la the Andrew Jackson presidential administration of the early 1800s and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration (1932 - 1945).

Evidence of Maier's audacious clout is his being able to have a direct and immediate presence in the mayor's office with Catazaro-Perry's announced selection (Thursday) of Maier's brother George as the mayor-elect's safety-service director.  Moreover, the mayor elect's transition team is made up of those known to be JAM disciples.

George Maier has to be very thankful especially at this time of the year in having such a politically powerful brother.

Johnnie, of course, latched onto Ted Strickland (the first county chairman to endorse Strickland in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 2006) and became "family" to Strickland.

Does anyone doubt that Johnnie had to be the reason that George became an official in the Strickland administration?

However, there is at least one incidence of Maier not being able to work wizardry from his Tuscarawas Township roost.

Apparently Maier thought he a seized on the perfect candidate at the perfect time when he brought out all "the king's horses and all the king's men" to make former Tuscarawas Township trustee Celeste DeHoff state Representative Celeste DeHoff.

It was the election of 2008.  Republican John Hagan of Marlboro Township was term limited out.  The Republicans had selected the unknown Todd Snitchler of Lake (now Governor Kasich's public utilities chairman) to be their standard bearer. 

DeHoff, a former Republican, who Maier - apparently - convinced to switch over, proved to be a monumental flop as a candidate.

Notwithstanding Maier's seeming consummate effort to raise for her from the political action committee bigs located in Columbus and his bringing in Ohio first lady Frances Strickland, the governor himself, John Glenn, then Secretary of Treasurer Richard Cordray and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Celeste wasn't close to Snitchler when the final tally was tabbed.

Moral of the story:  Maier does make political miscalculations from time-to-time.

But overall, he has been impressive in seeing and seizing political opportunities to enhance himself and those who toady up to become part of his loyalist entourage.

Not too sure what he gets done for the benefit and welfare of the citizens of Tuscarawas Township and the city of Massillon, but there is no doubt that he does well for himself and his own kind.

Could it be, looking long range after kingmaker Maier has passed on to his eternal reward, that Massillon will unincorporate and be reborn as Maierville, Tuscarawas Township, Stark County, Ohio?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

DORDEA ANNOUNCES HE IS RUNNING FOR STARK CO. SHERIFF. THOUGH HE FACES A GOP PRIMARY CONTEST, SCPR PREDICTS A DORDEA McDONALD FACE-OFF IN NOVEMBER, 2012 IF McDONALD'S HEALTH PERMITS


Though the Stark County Board of Elections website does not indicate that Larry Dordea has pulled petitions preparatory to running for Stark County sheriff, Dordea told the SCPR yesterday that he is in fact circulating petitions and that he will be running in the March 6, 2012 primary.

In 2008, when Dordea ran he was the lone candidate.


But this time around it appears at the very minimum he will be facing retired (as of January 5, 2011) sheriff's department Captain Gary J. Shankle who headed up the patrol division and the investigations unit.  Currently he is a ranger with the Stark County Parks.


To the SCPR, Shankle is the only threat to Dordea's having a second crack at whomever the Democrats put up.


If his health allows, that person will be Chief Deputy Mike McDonald (the jail division).  It is likely that Arnold, Smith and Zink have pulled petitions on news of McDonald's health problems and in pulling petitions for one of two eventualities:
  • McDonald decides to withdrawal his filing prior to the filing deadline of December 7th and they would then be ready to go, or
  • McDonald keeps his filing in place but later on (within the time the Stark County Party Democratic can replace a candidate) decides that his health will not allow him to continue and consequently Arnold, Smith and Zink can then say that they should be prime considerations to replace McDonald if it comes to such
McDonald is undergoing treatment for cancer and appears optimistic that he will be in condition to run.

There is no doubt with the SCPR that McDonald, if he actually runs, will win a Democratic primary hands down.

On the Republican side, while neither man will criticize the other when The Report spoke with both; it is apparent to yours truly that there is at least a chill between the two.

Dordea is clear that Shankle did not support him as the Republican nominee in 2008.  Shankle refuses to say to The Report whether or not he supported Dordea saying that he does not reveal to anyone how he voted.

Shankle said that he had been thinking about running for several months prior to pulling petitions and that he has been urged by a number of deputies currently on staff at the sheriff's department to run.

The SCPR does not see former Canal Fulton Mayor John Grogan (an lieutenant with the Summit County sheriff's department) and Beach City Police Chief Jim Wood as being factors in the Republican primary should they carry through in filing their petitions.

Dordea says he welcomes all comers in the Republican side of the race but is confident that he will be facing Mike McDonald come November, 2012.

Friday, November 18, 2011

WILL THE "PROVISIONAL VOTES" - "TURN THE TIDE" IN CLOSE STARK CO. ELECTIONS?


UPDATE:  5:35 PM


UPDATE/CORRECTION: (ABOUT 11:00 AM)  Notwithstanding that the Stark County Democratic Party apparently thinks Canal Fulton City Council President Linda Zahirsky is a Democrat, Stark County Board of Elections (BOE) records indicate that Canal Fulton mayoral candidate Linda Zahirsky is a Republican and not a Democrat as originally published by the SCPR.


Zahirsky's current political affiliation was brought to the attention of the SCPR by Matthew Moellendick who - BOE records indicate - is a Republican serving on the "officially" non-partisan (a point of emphasis by Moellendick in his email to The Report) Canal Fulton City Council along side of Zahirsky.

BOE Records do show that Zahirsky has voted in Democratic primaries prior to this year.  Moreover, yours truly recalls being at at least one even with Ms. Zahirsky in attendance referring to herself as being a Democrat (probably 2004 or thereabouts).

The SCPR believes that the non-partisan dubbing of certain local government offices (boards of township trustees, some village/city councils and boards of education and the like) is a "legal fiction," for the most part and that it is relevant that Stark Countians to know an elected official's party identification in analyzing actions taken by the officeholder.

ORIGINAL BLOG

The SCPR hears that Stark Countians are likely to know by Monday as to whether or not provisional votes (CLICK HERE TO SEE CRITERIA) will be a difference maker in the November 8th results for Alliance City Council - Ward 2, Canal Fulton City Mayor and North Canton City Board of Education races.

ALLIANCE CITY COUNCIL WARD 2

The most likely of the three contests to be reversed may be the one in Alliance in which James Dyke came within a whisker of defeated long time Ward 2 Councilwoman Phyllis Phillips (312 Dykes; 315 Phillips).

Dyke tells the SCPR that he thinks he is entitled to an automatic recount.  His calculation (627 votes times 0.5 [the Ohio statutory factor) shows at little over three votes entitles him to a automatic recount.

However, he tells yours truly that Elections Director Jeanette Mullane doesn't see it that way.

Apparently, by her calculation (undoubtedly assisted by the Stark County prosecutor's office in interpreting Ohio Revised Code Section 3515.011), Dyke would have to be within two votes? 

It will be interesting to see whether or not Dyke obtains legal counsel for advice/counsel on the matter.

Who sits as councilperson in Alliance's 2nd is not the only question though.  The final result could determine which political party controls Alliance City Council.

However, the operative word is "could."

Dyke, if he ends up as the elected official after the 14 provisional votes are factored in to the total count, is said by a source to the SCPR to be a very independent minded person.

Stark County voter registration records indicate "no" party affiliation for Dyke.

Ward 2 in Alliance is a heavily democratic ward and therefore Dyke was an ideal candidate to take on established Democrat Phillips in terms of getting elected.

But if he was to line up with the Republicans on council, he just might have a hard time getting re-elected.  On the other hand, how could he line up the Democrat having defeated one of their most beloved in Phyllis Phillips?

So don't look for Dyke to be an "announced" partisan tipping point if he overcomes his three vote deficit from the 14 provisional ballots.

Council would then be 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats and 1 independent.

Dyke would then have to walk a very careful line in his voting pattern in order to maintain his "independent" status in the eyes of Ward 2 voters.

Of course, he could just flip over to being a Democrat.

Problem solved, no?

CANAL FULTON MAYORALTY

In Canal Fulton the outcome of the provisional ballot vote count will be a difference maker as to whether or not a Republican or Democrat is mayor of canal boat city.

Linda Zahirsky is a Democrat Republican (see correction in update above) and Richard Harbaugh (a long time Lawrence Township trustee) is a Republican.

While interesting, with only 22 provisional ballots to be counted (keeping in mind that not all may be deemed to be legally sufficient to qualify to be counted), it is unlikely that Zahirsky (801 votes) can overtake Harbaugh (815 votes).

Zahirsky does not qualify for an automatic recount as the vote stands today.   As the SCPR calculates, she would have to be within eight votes (1616 times 0.5 rounds off to 8).

But while it is unlikely that she can get enough of the 22 provisionals to win, she could get within eight?

Of course, if a candidate wants to pay the costs of a recount; they always have that option.

NORTH CANTON CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION

Their are a considerable number of North Cantonians who do not know that Jennifer Kling in the daughter of Stark County Commissioner Janet Creighton.

The Report is told that Kling did not campaign as Jennifer Creighton Kling.  To her credit, she reportedly told family and friends that if she were to be elected, she wanted to be known as having done it on her own.

However, her name did appear on the ballot itself as Jennifer Creighton Kling.  Moreover, Commissioner Creighton did some campaigning for Jennifer and was recognized by some of those answering the door in door-to-door campaigning.

Undoubtedly, Jordan Greenwald (an incumbent board member) knew all to well about Ms. Kling's family-political connections.

The Report is told and takes it to have been somewhat "tongue in cheek" that Kling was not running to oust Greenwald, but, rather was running for the other slot vacated by Nancy Bundy (in the sense that she decided not to seek re-election).

Kling has a 13 vote margin (4244) over Greenwald (4241) as of the end of vote counting on November 8th. 

But 70 provisional votes remain to be counted.

Unless Kling gets almost all of the provisional votes, it appears to the SCPR that there will certainly be an automatic recount.

If Kling prevails, what difference would it make?

The SCPR was somewhat astounded to see and hear Greenwald be so "over the top" for Superintendent Michael Gallina when yours truly videotaped a candidate forum discussion panel at North Canton High School.

The Report hears consistently good evaluations of Gallina from various quarters but to hear Greenwald Gallina is - though still living - is on the brink of sainthood.

The SCPR does not believe it is healthy for a school system to have a board member who is uncritical of the administration as apparently Greenwald is.

Greenwald pushed through a contract extension of 5 years for Gallina months before it was due to come up in order to spare the new board members (Fulton, for sure; Kling "ironically" likely) having to get up to speed in such a short time (the spring of 2012) to consider an extension.

To be frank, the SCPR does not believe Greenwald.

The Report believes that Greenwald know that Gallina is widely liked to North Cantonians was trying to piggyback on Gallina's community esteem as a way to enhance his re-election.

Another point on Greenwald's seeming servility.  He said at the candidate forum that if Gallina would accept, he would have been for a 10 year extension.

How over the top can one get?

If elected, Kling will be a positive and constructive force on the North Canton City Board of Education.

The Report is told that her approach to governing is much like her mother.

Enough said?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

(VIDEOS OF COMMISSONERS/CO. ENGR BENNETT)YESTERDAY THE STARK COMMISSIONERS SIGNED A ROADWAY USE, REPAIR, AND MAINTENANCE AGREEMENT WITH OIL & GAS "FRACKER" CHESAPEAKE EXPLORATION, LLC - DID COMMISSIONERS ADEQUATELY PROTECT STARK COUNTY ROADS?


The "honest to God" reality is that that horizontal fracking is going to occur bigtime in Ohio and, more particularly, in Stark County as the oil and gas industry scales up its operation to extract oil and natural gas deposits (Marcellus and Utica) contained in the rock which underlies Stark.

Here is one definition of fracking:
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well.
The SCPR has displeased the local anti-fracking crowd (headed up by Chris Borello of the Concerned Citizens of Stark County) by squaring up with the political realities that have been put in place by the likes of Republican Governor John Kasich.

Fracking is going to happen.  The only thing left for citizens to do is to hold public officials accountable to put in place sufficient protective measures vis-a-vis the oil and gas industry of the water we drink, the air we breathe and the roads we drive on.

Yesterday, the Stark County commissioners approved a Roadway Use, Repair, and Maintenance Agreement (Agreement) with Chesapeake Exploration, LLC (an Oklahoma limited liability agreement) designed to protect Stark Countians from damages to county roads, bridges, culverts, drains, et cetera.

The question:  Did the commissioners (using the services of  Stark County Engineer and the Stark County prosecutor's office) make a proper judgment that the agreement they entered into with Chesapeake on Stark Countians behalf was in the "best interests" of Stark Countians?

For any reader who want a copy of the agreement, contact the Stark County commissioners for a copy for email a request to tramols@att.net.

The SCPR's analysis (from a journalistic perspective; not from a legal perspective) is that they did.

An important part of the agreement requires Chesapeake to post a $200,000 per mile bond on the county roads they use.   Moreover, there are a number of important safeguards contained in the Agreement.

In earlier blogs on fracking, The Report has adopted a strategy of Plain Township Trustee Louis Giavasis to require (as a matter of Ohio statutory law) oil & gas industry drillers to have much higher amounts of liability insurance than presently required (which the SCPR understands to be a mere $3 million to cover all liability eventualities).

Such a bump up of coverage needs to be in place to cover accidents when they DO happen and consequently cause damage to water, air and ground natural resources and, of course, each and every individual person hurt by the accident.

There are deniers (mostly a matter of semantics) within the oil and gas industry who pooh pooh the notion that accidents will happen.

But the SCPR for one, among many who are not connected with environmental activists who are totally against fracking, are not buying.  We remember the "Deep Water Horizon," the "Exxon-Valez" and other accidents which have caused great harm to the environment and to people.

The way to handle the inevitable fracking is to make the industry indemnify and hold harmless on all consequences of an accident whenever the accidents do occur.

Giavasis approached state Representative Kirk Schuring early this year and asked him to sponsor and push legislation.

At last report, Schuring has gotten nothing done on the Giavasis request.  Of course, the SCPR has written ad nauseam that Schuring is mostly mouth and very little action; yet Stark Countians keep electing him.

But the Giavasis approach is the common sense approach that is actually workable.

For all the concerns that citizens have about fracking, the realistic and practical public response should be a la the Agreement, increasing liability and the like to make the oil and gas industry pay the bill for repairing the damages that fracking accidents might do.

One of the reasons that government entities like the Stark County commissioners can negotiate "fair" agreements with the oil and gas industry is because of the "hue and cry" raised by the anti-fracking community.

Being the political savvy people they are, the industry has figured out that they cannot assign the anti-frackers to being a fringe players who have no credibility with the great political middle of America.

While the anti-frackers may be unrealistic in thinking the can actually stop fracking, they certainly have made the oil and gas industry sit up and take notice and make agreements like yesterday's agreement possible.

Next up are two very important videos.

First, is a video of Stark County Engineer Keith Bennett in dialogue, and followed by a second video where in yours truly and Nancy Molnar of the Akron Beacon Journal quiz Bennett about the particulars of the Agreement:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SCHURING & HAGAN HAVING A POLITICAL "BORN AGAIN" EXPERIENCE ON DEFEATED ISSUE TWO?


Ya gotta just love politicians who get religion when they are on the losing side of an issue, no?

Well, that is exactly what we are getting with Republicans J. Kirk Schuring (51st "old" - 48th "new) and Christina Hagan (50th) of the Ohio House and two-thirds of the Republican side of the Stark County delegation to the Ohio General Assembly.

On March 30th they were on board Republican state Senator Shannon Jones' "political" Cannonball Express steamrolling over the Democrats in the GOP's attempt to, at least in part, defang the political alliance (political contributions-wise) between Democratic candidates and unions.

The Report believes that such was a main motive - if not THE main motive - in being part of jamming SB 5 through the Ohio Legislature in March of this year.

Of course, it is perfectly alright for Republicans to have a tight, if not exclusive,  political contributions relationship with the likes of chambers of commerce, the Ohio Manufacturers Association and business political action committees.

No doubt, there were aspects of the bill designed to deal with the unsustainable financial burden on local governments with regard to health care and pension obligations.

But, again, it appears to The Report that SB 5 was seen as and seized by Republicans as "a political opportunity" to use the cover of needed reforms on the pension/health care contributions by employees (with the unionized fire, police and teaching personnel being the primary targets) to achieve a totally unrelated political objective.

One of the things that Republicans took away from their overwhelming victory in November, 2010 in House and Senate elections, in statewide department of government elections (i.e. secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and attorney general) and in the gubernatorial election was that they had a mandate to refashion government along doctrinaire and political party interest lines.

Accordingly, they indulged themselves in "overkill" and "overreach."

But a funny thing happened to them on their victory lap.  They got tripped up by the very same voters who put them in office in the first place.

In Stark County, here is how the vote on Issue 2 went:

Well, Schuring and Hagan can now see political danger in terms of their re-electability for themselves; especially Hagan who has not been elected to anything (she was appointed earlier this year to replace Todd Snitchler who moved on to be Kasich's Public Utilities of Ohio [PUCO] chairman, and, accordingly, are now having a political "born again" experience.

They (Schuring and Hagan) are now overflowing with conciliatory talk (apparently taking their cue from the governor) as is evident in quotes told to Massillon Independent reporter Matt Rink (Schuring seeks common ground after Issue 2 defeat, November 13, 2011), to wit:
  • “I thought the opposition mounted a very aggressive, well-financed campaign.  I thought they did an effective job, so I was not surprised. Now that the voters have spoken, I think it’s important for state elected officials to listen." (Schuring)
  • “Anything we would do relative to collective bargaining we’ve got to sit down at the table with all parties on all sides.  We’ve got to see if we can find common ground. There wasn’t enough of that with the enactment of Senate Bill 5. We learned a lesson from that.” (Schuring)
  •  “If we can’t find common ground then I guess we’ll have to keep things the way they are.  Whatever issues come to the top now there will have to be common ground.”  (Schuring)
  • “However, there were cost-saving components in the bill and many people, including union workers, public workers altogether — many people who were against the bill as a whole — who said they would support the pension pickup and the 15 percent health care pay. They thought that those were reasonable reforms and worth asking for. I think there are things in the bill that have merit and certainly are worth taking back to the drawing board because of the state’s financial situation and also for a job-retention reason.”  (Hagan)
  • [the state can] “create an environment where we can work together.”  (Hagan)
  • We should be solving problems by sitting around a table together."  (Hagan)
State Senator Scott Oelslager foresaw the problems with the bill before the fact of his vote; not after the fact as seemingly have Schuring and Hagan.  Moreover, he has far and away demonstrated with "against the party votes" that he is far more capable than Schuring and Hagan to place the public interest over the Republican Party interest.



For the record, it appears to the SCPR that Democrat Stephen Slesnick is the Democratic equivalent of Schuring and Hagan. 

With Ohio House redistricting (his new district being the 49th), he could be vulnerable to a Republican challenge from a viable candidate because of new areas included n the new district.

In those areas, Slesnick name ID weakness might present some hope to the Republicans to make the race competitive.

But does Republican Monique Moore fill the bill to take advantage?



What will the Stark Democrats under Chairman Randy Gonzalez do in presenting viable candidates to oppose Schuring and Hagan?  It will be interesting to see.

It is likely that Schuring will get a pass or at best a token candidate.  Several months ago yours truly talked to Gonzalez about prospects of having a competitive candidate run against Schuring.   The party chief did not seem optimistic that he could recruit a top notch candidate.

Hagan in the 50th could be a different matter.

With her unwavering support for SB 5, one would think that organized labor (the AFL-CIO, the trade unions, the police and fire unions and the teacher unions) would go all out to punish her.

Moreover, conventional political wisdom is that you challenge an appointed official the first time out with your best.  The first election is the most difficult hump that an appointee has to surmount.

A number of Stark County Republicans were in disbelief when the Republican House Caucus (Caucus) selected her to replace Snitchler.  Hagan - not yet finished with college and working as a restaurant server -  was and remains a political novice who got the appointment because of daddy's political clout. 

The Caucus shelters her by surrounding her with the likes of veteran Republican legislator Ron Amstutz.

In 2000, Lawrence Township trustee Mike Stevens was appointed to replace term-limited out Johnnie A. Maier, Jr and lost by about 1,000 votes to Christina's father John, who then went on to serve four consecutive terms until he was term limited out.

The Report believes that the 50th has changed enough, that when coupled with Hagan's peculiar set of vulnerabilities,  that the right Democrat can squeak by though the district still has a significant Republican index.

WHO BELIEVES THAT JIM RENACCI WAS NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN THE "MICRO-GERRYMANDERING" OF THE 16TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT?


 UPDATE:  11:00 AM

16th District Congressman Jim Renacci apparently is hellbent on driving the congressional job approval (in terms of congresspersons' credibility) rating down either further than the Real Clear Politics (RCP) average shown in the graphic above.

Yesterday, Robert Wang of The Repository revealed (16th District lines drawn around Timken plants) that "someone" saw to it that a good part of the Timken roller bearing facilities remained in Jim Renacci's 16th congressional district.

Micro-gerrymandering on top of just plain ole gerrymandering.

Earlier this fall, the Republican dominated Ohio General Assembly sliced and diced Stark County into three congressional districts (which Republican state Rep. Christina Hagan  - Stark County, the 50th said was good for Stark) as part of a "every ten year" U.S. Constitution mandated redistricting.

If the new plan survives (it is being challenged by Ohio's Democrats), Renacci's 16th will only encompass northwest Stark except for a peninsula-esque jab into the heart of Stark County to pick off some Timken real estate.

Who in their right "political" mind would attribute the "someone" to anyone other than the congressman himself on the matter of mircro-gerrymandering.

One way or another the line of accountability has to lead back to Jim Renacci.  Any other explanation is simply naive and incredible.

Reading Wang's piece, it seems to the SCPR likely that there is a Republican Party conspiracy (denied by Republican operatives) to shield Renacci from direct involvement in the "micro-gerrymandering" of Stark County whereby a peninsula juts down into Stark apparently designed to suggest to the Timken interests that it is in their interests to continue to contribute massive amounts of money (some $124,000 plus since 2009) to the Renacci re-election campaign.

Who believes the statement of Mike Dittoe of the Ohio House Republicans:  "Campaign contributions do not dictate where congressional lines are drawn."

Who can forget a few months back when Renacci appeared at a Wadsworth townhall meeting in which "unfriendly" media was refused a right to videotape and the Renacci campaign "conveniently" laid the blame on the Wadsworth 9/12 group sponsoring the event.

Seems to be a hallmark of how Renacci operates, no?

To The Report Jim Renacci isn't any different than most of the other 434 members of Congress who have put Congress' approval rating - on average - at 11.3%.

It is all about him and his personal political survival and unity of Stark County be damned!