Thursday, March 7, 2013




When the likes of Republican Governor John Kasich and his partisan friends in the Ohio General Assembly (including Stark County's Christina Hagan [the 50th House District], Scott Oelslager [the 29th Ohio Senate District], and Kirk Schuring [the 48th Ohio House District]) start making cuts to Ohio's budget, it is likely that most everyday Stark Countians eyes glaze over.

"Oh, that is Columbus political stuff," a citizen may say.  "What does it have to do with me?"

Citizens becoming jaded to the political goings on in Columbus and therefore not interested is exactly what the likes of Kasich, Hagan and Schuring seemingly depend on.

Well, some local government leaders and politicians say:  "state budgeting has everything to do with the functioning of local government services!"

Maybe even how speedily criminals are taken off the streets of Stark County's villages, cities, and townships and put in jail?

Many Stark County local officials (including some of whom are Republicans) say that Kasich and the Republican supermajority controlled Ohio General Assembly have balanced the State of Ohio budget on the back of local government.

One Canton official points out to the Stark County Political Report that Ohio state government is currently carrying a $750 million surplus which is reportedly expected to grow to nearly $2 billion by the end of FY 2014/2015.

Fiscal Year 2014/2015 is the budget that state legislators are now working on.  It needs to be in place by June 30th.

One unit of local government that is taking it in the chops these days from the State of Ohio (indirectly through Ohio's cuts to local government funding) is the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab (CSCCL).

The lab plays a crucial role in the effort of such units as the Alliance, Canton, Massillon, North Canton, Louisville, Minerva, Hartville, Canal Fulton, Uniontown, Perry Township, Jackson Township police departments together with the Stark County sheriff's department to get the bad boys and girls off the streets and thereby make Stark County communities a safer place to live.

So we Stark Countians for the sake of our personal safety do need to wake up and push back on Kasich and in the local context the likes of Hagan, Oelslager and Schuring.

The crime lab budget has been at $1.2 million or so lately.  Because of the local government funding cuts at the hand of Kasich et al, the lab is looking at a budget of about $775,000 going forward.


A cut of nearly $500,000 is about a 40% cut!

Recently, due to internal staffing problems,  production of the lab has dropped and delays in processing Stark County police department's request for scientific analysis are stretching out so much so that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) is becoming a viable alternative.

And with the projected downward spiral in funding, is production likely to improve?

Consider that currently the lab technicians have to answer their own telephones which necessarily interferes with the amount of time they can spend testing materials for evidence tying specific individuals to criminal activity.

One of the perks of having a Canton-Stark County Crime Lab was, at one time, much quicker turn around times on the processing of crime evidence.

It used to take "forever and a day" for BCI to get results back to local police departments and, though the service is free to local government, locals eschewed using BCI because of the excessive delays.

Now with Mike DeWine (a Republican) having become attorney general of Ohio, BCI has done a terrific job of turning itself into a first-rate crime lab and has cut down on the delays to the point that the Stark County Crime Lab (CSCCL) pales in comparison.

But that is what one can do with adequate resources.  Recently, BCI was provided with the finances with which to hire 49 new employees.

On the other hand, the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab has lost two employees.

So isn't this a no-brainer?

BCI does work for free and it is faster in most instances than the CSCCL and the county could save at least $775,000 a year in local government funds.

Again, a no-brainer, no?

Not if one buys into the thinking of new crime lab director Michele Foster.  (see video below)

Undoubtedly, Stark County's law enforcement leaders have a bias towards keepin it going. 

And, quite naturally, so does the staff at the lab.

As the SCPR sees it, Foster's argument is:
  • its convenience to local police agencies, 
  • its ability to do "extras" (e.g. putting a rush on this or that analysis, send a technician to the evidence site, et cetera) that BCI is not structured to do, and
  • its physical proximity to local courts and thereby easy accessibility to the lab's expert witnesses
go a long way in justifying the continuance of the CSCCL.

She was recently appointed director at the insistence and on the intervention of the Stark County Council of Governments leadership after Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II and his safety director Thomas Ream appear to have created a crisis in the composition of the CSCCL leadership.

Readers of the SCPR will recall that in February Mayor Healy and Safety Director Ream (working together, so it seems to The Report - LINK to prior blog)  appointed Ream's personal friend and the politically connected former chief deputy Rick Perez of the Stark County sheriff's department (under Tim Swanson) as director of the lab.

The Perez appointment came as a consequence of the lab not having a properly (i.e. scientifically) credentialed director from January, 2012 when the well-respected and highly qualified Robert Budgake was fired on allegations that he retired/rehired without having complied with Ohio law.

Rick Perez scientifically credentialed?

He wasn't by the pre-Perez job description.

But something like that never stops Mayor Healy.

His solution?

Eliminate the need for the director to have scientific credentials!

A quintessential Healy political, "I'll have it my way" move.

Over time Healy has moved to eliminate civil service classified positions in order to make city employees accountable to him as mayor.

At first blush, one might think what's wrong with that.  After all, the mayor is accountable to the voters every four years and he deserves the opportunity to control the city's employees, no?

For most mayors such a state of affairs would be just fine.

But with Mayor William J. Healy, II?

Needless to say, SCOG was having none of the Healy/Ream machinations.

Under the leadership (as chair of SCOG's executive committee) of Healy nemesis Tom Bernabei (also, a Stark County commissioner), on February 12th the SCOG executive committee had Healy apologizing to the  committee en masse (LINK to prior SCPR blog dealing with topic) and promising to work with SCOG to reshape the structure of the crime lab in terms of job descriptions, classifications and control of job hires/fires and the like.

However, the SCPR believe that before the work on reform can take place, the threshold question to be answered is whether or not the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab should continue to exist?

The SCPR thinks that such was, at least implicitly, really the key point of SCOG's general membership meeting on Tuesday of this week at Canton City Council's chambers.

And by the way, supposedly Representative Schuring was to show up at the meeting to answer questions about funding issues.  He did not show.

However, in a conversation that the SCPR had with him yesterday, he said he had communicated to SCOG member Randy Gonzalez (absent at the Tuesday meeting) that he could not meet with them on Tuesdays during legislative session but he is quite willing to come to Canton and meet with them on days that do not conflict with the legislative calendar.

If SCOG makes a determination that the crime lab merits keeping, then the question becomes how to properly fund it so that it can be restored to its former first-rate status?

To remind SCPR readers, that "is where the rubber meets the road" in terms of Governor Kasich and the likes of Stark Countians Hagan, Oelslager and Schuring and their work on the FY 2014/2015 state budget insofar as its impact on local government funding.

What comes out of the budgeting process DOES have an impact on you and I and our personal safety as one among a long list of local government services that will be cut as the state money dries up.

As a sidenote, why is the SCPR excluding Democrat Stephen Slesnick from the list of key figures in the budgeting process?

Answer:   being a Democrat in a severe minority position, he really does not matter much in the context of the supermajority control of the Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly.

Moreover, The Report has such a low view of Slesnick's legislative ability that even if Democrats were in charge in Columbus, he would not be anymore helpful to the local cause than are Republicans Hagan, Oelslager, and Schuring.

The overriding point of this blog is to hammer home to everyday Stark Countians is:
  • what our locally elected legislators do in Columbus does affect each and every one of us in our daily lives, and
  • that they need to be closely watched and held accountable for their actions in the every two year elections (for state representatives)/every four year elections (for state senators).
It is not a matter of Republicans being the bad guys and the Democrats being the good guys.

Both political parties are equally adept at looking out for themselves at the expense of the taxpaying public.

The SCPR has written many, many blogs about how a number local Democrat office holders have  "screwed the Stark County public" either for personal political or political party advantage.

Just ask a few Democrat leaders what they think of about the SCPR's having taken them to task.

Returning to the threshold question of this blog:  Should the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab continue to exist?

But, the SCPR asks:  Is that enough?

Stark County leaders have to understand that they are stewards of the taxpayers' money.  And as sparse as local government funding is these days, it is their job to put it to the highest and most efficient use of what funding exists because there no margin for error.

The SCPR videotaped Michele Foster's presentation to the SCOG general membership on Tuesday.

Foster reeks of confidence, candor and of having superb leadership qualities.

For the Healy administration to have overlooked Michele is an outrage and the SCPR believes shows in spades that the mayor first looks to "not in the public interest" criteria in selecting some of his key officials.

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