UPDATED: 08:13 AM
The Stark County Political Report (SCPR - The Report) has been tracking the retire/rehire controversy in Stark County since April 6, 2008.
The Report began publication on March 12, 2008 and so regular readers of this blog have to be well informed as to who among Stark County officials, past and present, have advantaged themselves with the so called "double-dipping" whereby they retire from public employment only to be rehired for the very same job at the very same salary to collect in addition to their retirement benefit.
Here are links for blogs done by the SCPR going back to April 6, 2008 related in one fashion or another on the retire/rehire question.
With respect to elected officials, the SCPR sees retire/rehire just a little bit different than those instances like the city of Canton is undergoing with respect to certain "unelected" public officials who retired and rehired without the taxpayers/voters having a say.
ON ELECTED OFFICIALS
To concentrate on a few examples:
Stark Countians could have rejected the re-election bid of 5th District Court of Appeals Judge William Hoffman (a colleague of Judges Gwin and Wise) on "a no hire/retiree" basis, but they did not.
Stark Countians could have rejected the re-election bid of Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson on "a no hire a retiree" basis, but they did not.
Of course, there was no organized effort to focus public attention on the retire/rehire dimension of the Hoffman and Swanson campaigns nor on the re-election/election of retired public officials who ran for other offices.
But for Judges Gwin (a Democrat, presiding judge of the 5th and a son of a former judge) and Wise (a Republican, administrative judge of the 5th and a son of a former judge) this may be about to change.
On Saturday, the SCPR received a call from a well known local attorney who wanted to talk about the Gwin/Wise plans to put themselves in the $250,000 (more or less) per annum income bracket and $200,000 (more or less) per annum income bracket UNOPPOSED.
"Unopposed," - a key word.
At least Swanson had an opponent in 2008 (Larry Dordea, himself a retiree as Alliance police chief who now is building up additional retirement benefits as Hartville police chief).
With both candidates on retirement, what choice the the voters have?
Gwin and Wise; NO OPPOSITION? Should not be!
The SCPR trusts that the effort to find "independent" candidates (who are not retired) to put up against Gwin and Wise will bear fruit and that a well-funded, organized, staff (by unpaid volunteers) and articulate campaign will be put before the Stark County electorate to determine whether or not the Gwin and Wise plan for themselves is acceptable to the voting public.
If a well-informed electorate thinks it okay for the likes of Gwin and Wise to hang on until the bitter end (both at age 60 will have the opportunity to two more times under current law and thereby could possibly serve until they are 72 or so) while fattening their incomes with a combo of n annual salary of $132,000 plus a healthy retirement income, who is to complain?
However, we all need to be clear as to what "the will of the people" is in a context of actual election contests which focus the vote on the retire/rehire aspect of what Gwin and Wise wish to do on the condition that the candidates in opposition meet the threshold of being "qualified" candidates as assessed by the local bar associations which comprise the 5th.
Back in November Stark County and Ohio voters overwhelming voted to reject extending the age to which judges can run for office (proposed to be age 75 - State Issue #1), to wit:
Has the Ohio Legislature misread what people think on the retire/rehire issue?
If the effort to produce independent opponents to Gwin and Wise, Stark County could lead the way in providing a ballot box answer.
The SCPR's preference is that once public officials decide to retire, they should retire - pure and simple. No gaming the system. Ohio should enact legislation to make such the law of the state.
As things stand now, the judges are acting within their rights. Of course, the voters in the 5th Court of Appeals District can trump their try.
ON UNELECTED OFFICIALS
Unelected public officials/employees (school superintendents, teachers, police, fire, health workers et cetera) should only be allowed to retire/rehire on the condition that they take a 40% reduction in wages and work without any fringe benefits in the non-retirement work context.
And that only on the certification by designated officials (e.g. the mayor of a city or village, on the unanimous vote of a board of education) that the retiree/rehiree is an essential person to the effective functioning of the certifying government.
While we know very little what is going on in Canton with the 30 (more or less) employees (some quite well known public figures - some of who The Report understands are sitting elected officials) who "quietly" retired and were rehired in their public jobs without missing a beat, it appears that city officials going back sometime (apparently at least through the Creighton and Watkins administrations) have been allowing if not encouraging this very practice at a significant cost to the taxpayers of Canton: a city running million dollar plus deficits in recent years.
Here is a video of Leroy Lynch of Canton addressing Canton City Council last Monday night on the issue.
In the case of elected officials, Stark Countians have the opportunity to vote no on retire/rehire.
But in the case of unelected officials/employees, the public has no say in the matter.
Take the category of superintendents of schools. For the most part superintendents cultivate "sweetheart" relationships with their respective boards of education and there is no "arms length" negotiating that takes place to protect the public's financial interest.
Such is the reason why the Ohio legislature needs to impose a structure on those public officials and bodies that are doing the retire/rehire thing.
DOES RETIRE/REHIRE PHENOMENON HAVE AN EROSIVE EFFECT ON PUBLIC VIEW ON INTEGRITY OF GOVERNMENT?
As readers of the SCPR know, yours truly believes that there is a steady erosion of public support for institutions of government at all levels and the culprit is not limited to a Vince Furstaci theft in office type of event.
Violations of the "sunshine law," arbitrary denials of "public records" to the requesting public, overuse of "executive sessions" by public officials and a myriad of other government official abuses of the taxpaying/voting public including, perhaps, the retire/rehire phenomenon, belong as part of the "culprit" list.
It could be that the general public feels gamed, abused and "played the sucker" by the way retire/rehire has evolved as sanctioned by the Ohio General Assembly (OGA).
There is a move in the OGA to change the rules for retire/rehire. Here is a extract of HB 202 (introduced on 04/12/2011) analysis by the Ohio Judicial Conference.
It is about time that a mechanism be provided to citizens-at-large to gauge how the voting public feels about retire/rehire.
And the Gwin/Wise re-election pursuits of November, 2012 may turn out to be a 15 county (the jurisdiction of the 5th District Court of Appeals - Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas counties) referendum on the issue.
After all, our government is to be one of the people, for the people and by the people, isn't it Abraham Lincoln?