In American constitutional law, when a legislature legislates in certain areas of citizenship (e.g. the right to vote, racial factors and religious tests), the United States Supreme Court has said in multiple cumulative decisions that such legislation will be given "special scrutiny" by the courts of the land to determine whether or not that law can stand as a constitutional exercise of legislative action.
While, of course, the appointment of partisan public figures to public sector jobs is not at the constitutionality level of importance, the SCPR posits that any time a partisan public figure (including elected officials) are appointed to a public job that has a political person at its head, then citizens and the media acting on their behalf should apply special scrutiny to the appointment to determine whether the appointment has a predominant factor as being based on merit and not primarily because the appointed person has political connections.
The Stark County Political Report has, for the past five years of existence, more diligently than any other Stark County media outlet scrutinized such appointments within the county/political subdivision context and assessed the merit factor as contrasted to the political factor.
THE STARK COUNTY EXPERIENCE WITH POLITICAL APPOINTMENTS
The Stark County public woke up to the importance to such scrutiny in the course of what local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley termed as being Zeiglergate.
Back in 1999 Zeigler was appointed Stark County treasurer by the Stark County Democratic Party when then-sitting treasurer Mark Roach (who more or less was the political heir of his father [Harold Roach] who had served many years as Stark treasurer) was forced from office because he did not keep up with the continuing education mandates of Ohio law.
It appears that the Zeigler appointment in terms of having merit qualifications to be treasurer was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
While Zeigler kept his continuing education requirements up to snuff, he showed in the opinion of many Stark Countians (including the SCPR) 2009 that he lacked the managerial skills to have put in place policy, practice and physical infrastructure safeguards to have prevented the theft of upwards of $3 million from the county treasury by a man he appointed to be his chief deputy treasurer in the early 2000s.
On April 1, 2009, Zeigler announced to the Stark County public that he suspected Vince Frustaci (the chief deputy) of having perpetuated the theft over a period of several years. Subsequently, Frustaci pled guilty to the theft and is currently serving a 10 year prison term in federal prison.
Zeigler himself has never been implicated in the theft.
But it seems to the SCPR that the public perception that he did not merit being treasurer because of perceived management shortfalls ultimately led to Zeigler squaring up to that perception and resigning on October 19, 2011.
This time around the Democrats were forced - by the public citizen factor - to appoint Republican Alex Zumbar to replace Zeigler.
A bitter pill indeed for the Democrats to swallow.
However, they have no one to blame but themselves in that they pay too little attention to the qualifications of their prospective appointees to hold the office they aspire to and pay undue attention to their political clout and their conjectured electability.
Another Democratic appointment that the SCPR thinks has not worked out to the benefit of Stark citizenry is that of Prosecutor John Ferrero.
When the highly respected and esteemed prosecutor Bob Horowitz moved on to being the judge for the Stark County Probate Court on the retirement of R.R. Denny Clunck. Sr, the-then Stark County Democratic Party chairman Ferrero became the Party's selection to take over from Horowitz.
The SCPR believes Ferrero's performance in office proves that he was the wrong person for the job.
The Report cites his handling of the Devies case (see prior blog LINK for background), Zeiglergate, budgeting for the office, and most recently the Forchione/Sandy Hook (see prior blog LINK for background) demonstrates amply that there had to be someone other than Ferrero that merited appointment.
It appears to the SCPR that Ferrero's appeal was not primarily on his skills as an attorney but rather on his electability and re-electability.
For political parties such criteria make sense. But for the public, experience, skill and temperament must be primary.
GEORGE T. MAIER
When Mike McDonald had to step aside on January 3, 2013 from being sheriff-elect because of illness, it fell to the Stark County Democrats to appoint his replacement.
- Stark County sheriff lieutentant Lou Darrow,
- Massillon safety director and former state highway patrolman George T. Maier, and
- Hartville police chief (former Alliance police chief) Larry Dordea (a Republican). Dordea ran against McDonald last November.
While in a de facto sense (except, perhaps in opinion of the SCPR, on the issue of temperament), Maier appears qualified if not well-qualified. However, he seems to lack de jure (as a matter of law - ORC 311.01 criteria) qualification which is now being determined by the Ohio Supreme Court.
In addition to the questions the SCPR has about Maier's temperament (see prior SCPR blog), it appears to The Report that on February 5, 2013, the Stark Dems' Central Committee on the insistence of Chairman Randy Gonzalez (in concert with Maier's brother Johnnie, Jr [a former Stark County Democratic Party chairman]) Maier was appointed sheriff as a consequence of the political heft that brother Johnnie still wields among Stark's organized Democrats.
To The Report, the appointment of a county sheriff should not be a matter of political power exercised, but as to the merits of qualifications in every aspect of the word qualification to be sheriff.
The Report believes that the Democrats have fallen short on the issue of merit and that the exercise of political power has been the main reason they appointed Maier sheriff.
Most recently Mayor William J. Healy, II tried - in the opinion of The Report - to make a politics-based appointment of former Stark County chief deputy sheriff Rick Perez to be director of the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab.
As part of the appointment, the job description was watered down to take out the requirement that the director have a science background so that Perez could qualify.
It could be that Canton public safety director Thomas Ream was equally instrumental in the appointment, if not, the prime mover, for his personal and political friend.
Healy has denied having a role in the matter, but the SCPR is not buying.
The appointment was reversed with the reaction of the Stark County Council of Governments (SCOG)
No one should say: aha! - its the Democrats who dwell on the political factors.
Not at all.
Given the opportunity, Republicans, The Report believes - if not monitored by citizens and the media - will replicate the Stark County Democratic Party model.
It just so happens that the Republicans have held so few politically significant Stark County based offices over the last ten years or so that they have not had the opportunity to demonstrate that they too often look at political factors rather than merit factors in appointing to office.
But the political landscape is changing.
And ironically enough, the change is taking place because of opportunities that fell to Republicans as a consequence of Zeiglergate.
The Report has already discussed above how Alex Zumbar became treasurer. Absent a major goof up like Roach and Zeigler, he is likely to be Stark County treasurer for the next couple or three decades.
The same for Alan Harold who is Stark County auditor.
Because of Kim Perez's close political and personal ties to Gary Zeigler and his public perceived failure to effectively identify and insist on remedial reaction to obvious problems emanating from the treasurer's office in the auditor office interaction with then-Chief Deputy Treasurer Frustaci, the SCPR believes he lost office to the-then untested and political neophyte Harold in November, 2010.
One of the hallmarks and chief values of the SCPR to the public discussion of Stark County government and politics is that The Report has demonstrated over the past five years of existence that this publication can be relied upon to harpoon both Democrats and Republicans for their failures to protect the public interest in defference to political party interests.
All of the foregoing brings us to the real topics of this blog.
Can the recent hire of A.R. "Chip" Conde (a prominent Stark County Republican - who last ran against Democrat William J. Healy, II to replace Healy as mayor of Canton) to the auditor's staff pass the "smell test" of having been primarily politically motivated?
Moreover, can the recent hire of Brant Luther (a prominent Stark County Republican - who once served as the Stark County Republican Party's appointee as Stark County auditor) to be Stark County chief administrator by the commissioners (controlled 2 to 1 by the Republicans) pass the "smell test" of having been primarily politically motivated?
First, the Luther appointment.
To the SCPR the most suspicious part in terms of political dynamics of the Luther resume is his former employment with current Stark County commissioner Janet Creighton.
The Report did look over the resumes of the applicants for the position and does think that there was plenty of justification on the comparative analysis for Luther to have been among the top five.
However, in listing the five finalists, The Report in a blog (LINK) at the time listed Luther 4 on the list of 5 in terms of yours truly's evaluation of factors of merit.
The Report's top candidate was the currently Geauga County chief administrator. But in talking the matter over with Commissioner Tom Bernabei, the Geauga Countian more or less took himself out of the running for the post on his failure to commit to relocating his residence to Stark County.
It is convincing to the SCPR that one would not want to hire an out of area person for the key position of county administrator only for that person to tire of making the long daily trip from Geauga county to Stark county and quite understandably rethink his having taken the job in the first place.
The Report's most realistic choice was Vince Marion of the Alliance city administration. It appears to yours truly that he has done a superlative job in Alliance as an economic development administrator. Also, though a Republican, The Report perceives him to be a low profile partisan and therefore not a major political player.
It could be that the commissioners' choice (Luther) will work out fine.
Only time will tell as to whether or not he has the tools to be an effective administrator.
One thing he will have to do from time-to-time is to face down (in the context of a major part of the job: the county budget) independently elected Stark County officials (all of whom, except for Zumbar, are Democrats).
Because of his extensive historical involvement as an active and partisan Republican (e.g. serving under Creighton in the auditor's office; being an elected Republican councilman in Alliance; having run for retention as Stark County auditor as a Republican appointee to that office; and having run for state representative as a Republican), will Zumbar experience unique difficulties with these folks on the basis of unstated and unarticulated political undertones?
That, of course, remains to be seen.
The Report is satisfied that the commissioners have made it crystal clear to Luther that political considerations have no place whatsoever with his work as chief county administrator.
And The Report believes that Luther will toe the line on this factor.
All that remains to be seen is whether or not Luther has the needed skills to discharge his responsibilities as chief administrator.
For if he falls short, you can bet your bottom dollar that the critics will come out of the woodwork claiming that Luther's political notoriety and associations were the "real" reason he got the job and not because he was clearly more qualified and merited for the office than his competitors.
A.R. "CHIP" CONDE
One would think it would have been reported in Canton's daily newspaper, but, if it was, The Report did not catch it.
On March 8th the SCPR received this e-mail from Conde:
Hmm? Yours truly thought, when did Conde become an Alan Harold employee?
Beyond that, The Report had a whole host of questions for Harold in a quest to determine what, if any, political factors played in Republican Harold's act in hiring Republican and Canton mayoralty candidate (November, 2011) A.R. "Chip" Conde into the auditor's office.
Off went an e-mail to Harold with the list of questions. Also, The Report met face-to-face with Harold on the matter.
Alan Harold is an enthusiastic Republican.
The Report remembers him (in his pre-being-a-public-official days) as a part of a group of partisan protestors (i.e. calling the Democratic candidate to task for high gasoline price with the chant "Drill Baby Drill) camped out across the street and on the sidewalk adjoining the Sunoco gasoline station of West Tuscarawas where the candidate (Democrat John Boccieri) was doing a photo-op campaign appearance.
And there is nothing wrong with being into one's politics passionately as long as it does not cause such a person as a public official to put party interests above the public interest.
So the point of Harold's passion is not to condemn it, but to note it as a background item for future reference.
Well, Harold has become a public officeholder in November, 2010 and the SCPR thinks a damn good one.
But no matter The Report's high regard for Harold, his appointment of Conde requries "special scrutiny."
Here is the Q&A between the SCPR (light gray) & Harold (light blue).
Apparently, you have hired Chip Conde to your staff?
The date of hire? 2/4/2013
The position? Property Tax Manager
His job responsibilities?
Oversee Board of Revision process, serve as my alternate to the Board of Revision, manage website conversion process, back-up budget/settlement functions.
His annual income including benefits? $37,000 salary + $13,122
Was the position put up for public bid?
yes - advertised in The Rep and online (monster.com)
What political connections past and present do you have to Mr. Conde?
He worked for Strategy One, who did some consulting on the sales tax
campaign and my campaign.
What political factors played into the hire decision, if any?
None - I think my record since I've been in office speaks to hiring of people who are, above all, qualified and committed to serving the public.
Whom approached whom regarding the job? He applied.
Was any third person involved in connecting Conde to you for hire? No
The SCPR also reviewed Conde's resume together with 21 others which were submitted in response to the Repository and Monster.com solicitations.
The two that stood out to yours truly was Conde's and one from a Stark County local government finance department employee of some 20 years.
Conde's main merit qualification for getting the Stark County auditor job was his service in the Creighton Canton mayoralty administration as chief-of-staff and budget director, 2005 through 2008. Moreover, he ran for mayor of Canton himself in 2011 against incumbent mayor William J. Healy, II.
The Report thinks that the finance department employee probably has better credentials than Conde on paper for getting the auditor department job.
Accordingly, notwithstanding Harold's denial, it appears to the SCPR that Conde's political connections (i.e. working on the Stark County sales tax effort, the Harold campaign, being in the Creighton administration and being the the Republican standard bearer in the Canton mayoralty race of 2011) did play a significant role in his landing the job.
In the SCPR's face-to-face with Harold he talked about how although he has veto power over the actual hire he basically turns over the hiring to his employees.
As the regular readers of The Report know and as pointed out earlier in this blog, yours truly thinks that Alan Harold is likely one of Stark County's very best elected officeholders. So yours turly would like to believe his protestation that politics had nothing to do with the Conde hiring.
But in all candor, The Report cannot do so.
Going through the two recent hires in which Republicans have control (i.e. Creighton/Regula, the commissioners office and Harold the auditor's office), it is the SCPR's opinion that political connections, at the very minimum, did not hurt Luther and Conde.
What's more likely in the mind of yours truly is that the connections were a difference maker.
In the final analysis, the SCPR believes that the Luther and Conde hirings are evidence that Republicans are in fact no different in this regard than what Stark Countians have been getting from Democrats over recent decades.
Isn't it amazing what "special scrutiny" will reveal?