Monday, April 9, 2012


When the Stark County commissioners let it be known that they could use a million or two to make 2012 budget ends meet, Stark County Auditor Alan Harold put his financial auditing skills to work and put the "light of day" on $2.3 million in previously "hidden" county money.

From a February 7, 2012 SCPR blog:
Last Monday Stark County Auditor Alan Harold astounded everybody at a weekly Stark County commissioner work session when he revealed that he had found "lost" money (i.e. overpaid/unclaimed property taxes and personal taxes) to the tune of $1.1 million that he was willing to certify to the commissioners as being available to allocate to the Stark County general fund departments of government for 2012.  However, the overpaid taxes are always subject to the claim of the overpaying taxpayer.
Then a blog from February 12, 2012 (Creighton:  Can you hear me now, we are not finding money!) the following:
Last week Auditor Harold hinted that more blessings were to come.  But he wouldn't say exactly from where and how much.  However, county officials were praying for a cool $1 million or so.  The question:  would the $1 million rain down in the form of "pennies - 100 times a million - raining down from heaven?"
Lo and behold!  Prayers have been answered!!  At yesterday's work session of commissioners it was announced that Stark County Clerk of Courts Nancy Reinbold had found $1 million in what is called "title funds" and that County Chief Administrator Mike Hanke working with Stark's exceptional Benefits Administrator Carol Hayn had figured out that county general fund departments had "overpaid" (that word again) their share of the county's monthly health care self-insurance assessment collectively by $284,000 and that BINGO! there you have it:  an answer to prayer - a cool $1.3 million (rounded off, of course, to the next higher number).
Of course, the SCPR respectfully disagrees with Commissioner Creighton.

Undoubtedly, former Stark County Kim Perez and former Stark County Treasurer Gary Zeigler knew the $1.1 (probably a little less then) was just lying around as most certainly has Stark County Clerk of Courts Nancy Reinbold and County Benefits Administrator Carol Hayn.

So what was the causative factor in bringing the "hidden" to the "light of day."

Stark County Auditor Alan Harold, pure and simple!

Harold seems to have an ability that his predecessor Perez did not have.

Not only is the auditor a numbers cruncher as any auditing function has to be by its very nature.  He repeatedly demonstrates his ability to ask questions such as:

"Why is this money just laying around fallow when it could be put to better use?"

Sooner or later Harold will put himself out of business in terms of finding dormant county money that can be put to productive use.

In the long run, his competence and thoroughness will benefit the public's confidence in the efficiency of county finances insofar as putting what funds are available to effective use.

In the short run, above-cited revelations (the $1.1 million, the $1 million and the $0.3 million) make folks in local government like Commissioner Creighton just a tad nervous.

Likely she fears, more than anything else, that over time the Stark County public will slip back into the "little or no confidence in Stark County government" mode that took hold post April 1, 2009 and the revelation that former Stark County Deputy Treasurer Vince Frustaci had stolen upwards of $3 million in taxpayer money right under the noses of state (Ohio auditor of state) and Stark County officials.

And well she should.

But there is another factor with government that bears watching too.

And what might that be?

Government transparency, that's what!

In a SCPR March 16, 2012 blog, yours truly cited a "transparency/accessibility" audit by Ohio Auditor of State David Yost, to wit:
The Auditor of State’s office made a request for payroll records of all 247 cities in Ohio in October, as part of an effort to evaluate the format of electronic records and the ease of use and access to payroll records, which typically represent the majority of spending by local governments. (emphasis added)
The audit showed The Report that Stark Countians should be concerned about the "delayed" accessibility to the records request from Canal Fulton and North Canton.

However, the problem could much widespread than just Canal Fulton and North Canton.

The "Yost test" did not include Stark's villages, townships, school districts and other local government bodies.

Ohio, in general, does have a problem with transparency.

A pithy editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio public records, some sunshine, some fog, April 7, 2012) shows slippage in Ohio government transparency, to wit:
A national study, meanwhile, conducted by the Ohio Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, determined that the Ohio government's financial transparency on state spending had slipped from third in the nation to 31st this year, in terms of accessibility and content on the state's transparency website
The study graded Ohio's "checkbook-level" transparency -- data readily findable by a nonexpert -- as a D. That's down from a B the previous year.  
 However, there was some sunshine, to wit:
Ten Ohio local governments just won Sunny Awards, bestowed annually by Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit, for "the most transparent government Web sites in the nation." The awards, which rate how open local governments are on their sites as to money, taxes, officials and their deliberations, went to 210 websites nationally. (Florida had the most winners.)

Ohio's 10 winning localities were Franklin, Hamilton and Montgomery counties; the cities of Columbus and Cincinnati; and five school districts, including Toledo, Columbus and Dayton. The Toledo schools, for example, got an A+ in part for publishing the full terms of their union contracts and their teacher and administrative salary schedules. Greater Cleveland produced no winners.
While Stark County has come a long way on the financial accountability measure, it appears to be less than sterling on government transparency factors.

On accessibility to county government (as an example), in the run up to convincing Stark Countians to vote for a sales tax issue [0.5%], the commissioners instituted a number of internal structural reforms (e.g. scheduling mass "open to the public" county official meetings, instituting Monday and Tuesday work sessions, and getting out into Stark's political subdivisions [22 such meetings].

However, it appears to the SCPR that there has been some backsliding on the

After the 0.5% sales tax levy passed last, no political subdivision meetings have be schedule despite commissioners telling the SCPR that they planned to continue them.

There has been talk (at past commissioners meetings) of improving Stark County's website, but nothing has materialized.

About two weeks ago, a Stark Countian appeared before to the commissioners to complain about the lack of availability of something as simple as the posting of a county commissioner agenda on the county's existing website on a timely enough of a basis to allow pre-planning (regarding issues that come before them) on the part of citizens who want to have input on the issue.

The Stark County Political Report senses that a relaxation from due diligence on the part of county officials may be underway.

The Report will continue a "24/7/365 WATCH" on Stark County (county level and political subdivision level) both on financial and transparency matters.

And so should every Stark Countian!

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