UPDATE: 7:00 AM - The Alliance Review has posted an article this morning indicating that the Stark County Prosecutor's office has issued an opinion on the legality of retire/rehire longevity payments to Stark County chief deputies Mike McDonald and Rick Perez.
It appears to the Stark County Political Report that Chief Deputy (Jail Division) might be another Stark County victim of the controversial retire/rehire practice going on at many levels of government within the county, the state, and indeed, across the nation.
Some months ago a controversy broke out within Canton government about retire/rehire involving a number of city employees who it has been alleged were improperly rehired after having retired. The ramifications of procedures implemented are still under review and appeal. And, the process used, could be very costly to Canton taxpayers. Some sources say as much as a million dollars.
A retire/rehire controversy has been ignited by the Larry Dordea for Sheriff campaign versus opponent Mike McDonald as the latest round of charge and countercharge between the two camps.
So what started out as a political love-in between Democrat Mike McDonald and his Republican opponent Larry Dordea (now Hartville police chief and Alliance councilman-at-large), has boiled over in recent days.
First, there was a letter by McDonald supporter Derrick Loy (a part of the Alliance political mix as president of the Alliance Democratic Club) that has been published in the SCPR (and other media) (LINK) making certain alleged factual allegations against Dordea which Dordea responded to point-by-point.
Next, there was a statement by McDonald to the SCPR asserting that Dordea is not qualified to be sheriff notwithstanding the fact that Stark County Court of Common Pleas Judge Taryn Heath had to (according to Ohio law) and did pass on both being qualified in the technical sense of the word.
Now, the retire/rehire matter.
For some time, Dordea tells the SCPR, his campaign has been seeking pay records from Stark County Auditor Alan Harold and from legal counsel for the Stark County Sheriff's Department as to whether or not McDonald and his fellow chief deputy Rick Perez were put on the appropriate pay status when they retired and were rehired in 2004 and 2008, respectively.
According to published reports in The Alliance Review (yesterday), Stark County taxpayers may have overpaid the pair a total of $30,000 plus in terms of pay level (longevity) and benefits.
Retire/rehire was thought to be a non-issue in the McDonald/Dordea match up because Dordea himself retired as chief of the Alliance Police Department in 2007 and subsequently hired on as a patrolman in Hartville. He quickly rose through the ranks and is now chief in Hartville.
Dordea says that his retire/rehire is different from McDonald's. Here is the list of differences from Dordea's perspective:
- his retire/rehire was from one unit of government (Alliance) to entirely different Stark County political subdivision (Hartville),
- McDonald and Perez, he says, had the same exact job waiting for them on the other side of retirement "apparently" at the same pay and benefits,
- Records indicate that they (McDonald and Perez) were "new" hires. However, they have been paid, according to Dordea, at their base rate $88,000 per year,
- Those same records are said to indicate that McDonald and Perez were paid a 4% longevity pay (which is based on a sliding upwards scale) with 4% being the top grade of pay,
- he (Dordea) hired in at a patrolman's pay in Hartville,
There is a provision in Ohio law (ORC 124.181(E)(2) which has generated the question, to wit:
An employee who has retired in accordance with the provisions of any retirement system offered by the state and who is employed by the state or any political subdivision of the state on or after June 24, 1987, shall not have prior service with the state or any political subdivision of the state counted for the purpose of determining the amount of the salary adjustment provided under this division.The SCPR asked Dordea whether or not he feels comfortable with the prosecutor's office rendering an opinion on the matter given the fact that number of prosecutors have contributed to the McDonald campaign including the elected prosecutor John Ferrero.
Dordea's response: "What choice do I have in the matter?"
And, he added, that he has no idea whatsoever whether or not an opinion will be forthcoming before the election which is one week from today.
The SCPR finds it understandable that Alan Harold has referred the matter to Prosecutor John Ferrero's office. That's one of the functions of the prosecutor office.
Back when Gary Ziegler was reinstated by the Ohio Supreme Court to the Stark County treasurer's post in June, 2011, Harold had no problem whatsoever in deciding that, until he obtained and posted a bond as required by Ohio law, Ziegler was limited to what county owned equipment (e.g. computers/telephones et cetera) he could use and, moreover, that he would not be paid until the bond issue was resolved.
The prosecutor's office advised Harold (the SCPR is told) to pay Zeigler. And that was a safe thing for Alan to do in terms of official accountability.
But in the end he felt that was not course he decided to follow.
Accordingly, he stuck his neck out on the block to do what his inner sense instructed him to do. Zeigler did not get paid until he worked out a final settlement with the county.
And that folks is what makes Alan Harold such an outstanding county auditor.
The SCPR is told by Dordea that the documentation is clear: McDonald and Perez were listed as "new" employees on resuming employment as "rehired" retirees.
Of course, the "clear" is in "the eye of the beholder;" namely, Dordea and his campaign manager
So it will be interesting to see what Harold does with the advice he gets from Ferrero's people.
John Ferrero is not going to like this, but the SCPR thinks this is another instance where he/his office should step aside and have a prosecutor from an adjoining county give the advice Harold has requested.
In the opinion of the SCPR, Ferrero should have stepped aside in the Devies (Marlboro police chief) case, the Zeigler case, and now ought to do so in this matter.
Checking McDonald's campaign finance report, The Report finds that Ferrero himself and several of his assistant prosecutors have contributed to the McDonald campaign, to wit:
- Ferrero himself to the tune of $200,
- his chief counsel John Kurtzman, $30,
- Ross Rhodes, $30
- Deborah Dawson, $30
- Mike Bickis, $60,
- Tim Andrews, $30.
On top of the contribution to McDonald's campaign factor, yours truly received the following political flyer that included Ferrero as a "team member" with McDonald, to wit:
It is John Ferrero and his assistants' right to make campaign contributions and to join in joint campaign literature with the likes of McDonald.
But having done so, The Report thinks that the potential conflict in interest factor is way too high for the office to be providing legal advice in a political controversy as is the case of the Dordea campaign allegations on McDonald.
Harold has never said so, but The Report believes the reason Harold ignored the advice from Ross Rhodes that he go ahead and pay Zeigler - again, the safe course for the auditor - (notwithstanding the fact he had not obtained and posted a bond with county commissioners), is because he understood the political ramifications (given Ferrero's historical political association with Zeigler) of doing so and accordingly followed his own wisdom on the matter having talked to a lot of different people.
The SCPR has always had a problem with retire/rehire.
To The Report, the problems consist of:
- a person retiring, let's say as a school superintendent, at $150,000 annually. He/she retires and is immediately rehired (an inside job - general public denied opportunity) at guess what? You've got it: $150,000.
- there is no competition for the job, no negotiating and substantially reduced salary (say at 60% of the $150,0000); hence no financial advantage to the district.
- the school district does not get the advantage of
- a new perspective,
- presumably a younger person with greater energy, and
- a person more in touch with younger generations and new ideas percolating throughout the education community.
And there is no doubt on the part of the SCPR that there is political motivation here. Not so much on Dordea's part, but at the initiative of his campaign manager and Republican Jackson trustee James N. Walters.
This flap over the proper pay for McDonald and Perez certainly is not going to be helpful to McDonald's campaign even if the decider-in-chief (Harold) determines that there was nothing improper and proceeds in six weeks (when the next longevity pay payment is due) on schedule with the next payment.
So it could be a case that McDonald is determined to be legally okay with the payments, but that the publicity surrounding the issue will tip enough votes to Dordea to elect him.
Of course, a lot of Stark Countians have already voted by absentee ballot and early voting. For those folks, the question on the payments is a non-issue.
The Report's take on McDonald's response is that he is not all that concerned.
He says that he believes Sheriff Swanson can pay him whatever he want to.
Moreover, The Report infers from his reaction that he views Walters' initiative in digging into the matter to be along the lines of political harassment and of little, if any, consequence to his campaign.
It seems to yours truly that from the Dordea campaign perspective, the pay issue is a much more serious issue.
Who is correct?
It is hard to say.
For now, it seems that Chief Deputy McDonald has made his "retire/rehire" bed (December, 2008) and now has to abide the biting political bed bugs that have invaded his bed.
Certainly, this is a very close election. So much so that anything including the retire/rehire pay situation could prove to be a difference maker.
The bed bugs might prove to have quite a powerful bite, no?