Thursday, June 20, 2013







Of late, Stark County commissioner meetings have been like "watching paint dry."

But that all changed yesterday when County Administrator Brant Luther read a resolution to hire Canton Township trustee and current First Communications employee Chris Nichols into a position entitled Director of Management and Budget at $70,000 per annum after a 120 day probation period with a start date of June 26th.

The SCPR's ears perked up immediately.

This announcement had shades of the Phil Davison over-the-top political rant of September, 2010 in terms of being a surprise to everybody in attendance.

One of the persons present at that Stark County Republican Party executive committee event was current Stark County commissioner Janet Creighton.

The meeting had been called to select a person to run for Stark County treasurer (which turned out to be Alex Zumbar) to replace Gary Zeigler who had been, as it turns out, unconstitutionally removed from office by the-then county commissioners Todd Bosley, Steve Meeks and Pete Ferguson.

Then this.

The Davison caper took everybody by surprise including Creighton who told yours truly that the rendition was out-of-character for the Phil Davison she knew.

Well, yesterday's move by Stark County commissioners was not a surprise of Davison dimensions, but it did seem to come "out-of-the-blue."

And, it was a tad disconcerting insofar as the SCPR is concerned in that the hire was made without any public discussion of the need to do so and in terms of not putting the position out there in a public-at-large advertisement to prospective applications.

The Report is told that the commissioners did mull over whether or not to advertise for the position but decided not to.

"Disconcerting" as in "so much so" that the SCPR thinks that the commissioners have taken another step back from the days that Republican Creighton and Democrat Tom Bernabei were elected in November, 2010 to replace Democrats Meeks and Bosley (who chose not to run for re-election).

At the time, Bernbei's and Creighton's election presaged a new day dawning in terms of a new emphasis on county government openness, accountability, transparency, communication and access.

Bernabei and Creighton were so committed to restoring trust in county government that they allowed a .025 sales tax to expire because they thought the county had not yet restored itself to a sufficient trust level growing out of situation in the county treasurer's office (LINK for background) that it would be unavailing to as Stark Countians to renew or replace the levy.

Consequently, in 2011 and going forward through 2012, Stark County experienced a financial crisis that resulted in dramatic cutbacks in county services.

By the November, 2011 election, the commissioners had instituted austerity moves and democratizing moves and had gotten out into the outlying regions of Stark County so that the were able to convince voters by a rather healthy margin to pass a 0.50 sales tax increase by a comfortable margin.

Since then, the SCPR has sensed a gradual deterioration of the commissioners' commitment to the reforms they made both in structure (e.g. instituting public accessible work sessions so that the public could witness first hand the inner workings of county government) and in commissioner attitude towards their constituents; namely, the Stark County taxpaying public.

There have been a series of events which has raised the eyebrows of yours truly in the sense of signaling a diminishment of commissioner due diligence in maintaining  the heyday (November, 2010 - November, 2011) of the "restore trust to Stark County government."

And yesterday's hiring of Nichols out-of-the-blue without any work session or equivalent being held (in the SCPR's knowledge) to discuss the need for an additional budget person and their inclination not to make the job publicly available should be disturbing to Stark Countians.

The Report thinks that the lead up to the Nichols hire was a ripe topic for discussion as to whether or not the commissioners would hire a top level employee at $70,000 per year as contrasted to hiring perhaps two employees at substantially lesser compensation level and thereby help the commissioners office better in serving the Stark County public.

What is going on with the commissioners appears to the SCPR to be akin a person who ends up getting boiled to death one degree at a time.

While the SCPR's sense of commissioner internal operations is that they do need an employee or two as they under Bernabei and Creighton have seemed to be operating on a shoe string and in a "lead by example" austerity/efficiency modeling paradigm, the way they did the Nichols hiring should be wholly unacceptable to the Stark County public.

Nothing against Chris Nichols.

He seems to have the qualifications for the job for which he has been hired.

Nichols was a candidate for the job to replace Mike Hanke as county administrator.

It was apparent at the time that the commissioners were having a difficult time choosing between the eventual selectee (Brant Luther) and Nichols.

By The Report's calculation, advantage Luther by virtue of having worked for Creighton when she was Stark County auditor and having succeeded her in office.

And the SCPR's take is that Creighton is every bit the equal of Bernabei if not moreso in factoring into the ultimate decisions made by the commissioners as a body.

If there was an irreconcilable difference between her and Bernabei, one has to believe that fellow Republican Commissioner Richard Regula is going to side with Creighton both in the politics of things and as a matter of personal affinity.  On the latter factor, these two have known each other for years and years and have, undoubtedly, worked with one another on various matters over those years.

Getting back to the Nichols hire, it appears to yours truly that finding a way to bring him on board has been under consideration since he interviewed for the Hanke-vacated position.

There are a number of curiosities surrounding the Nichols hire.

Luther says that he is hiring in at 12% less than what he makes as Revenue Assurance Director (LINK for general definition) since May, 2002 at First Communications which by the SCPR calculation would be about $78,000.


Why would anybody take a 12% cut for a county job?

Did the commissioners explore this line of questioning and the potential bearing those reasons might have is doing the job for which he was hired?

Another thing.

The political aspect of the hiring.

Because he had a long, long history of intense political involvement with the Stark County Republican Party (as an office holder [Alliance councilman and Stark County auditor] and as Republican Auditor Janet Creighton's employee and Republican Probate Judge Dixie Park's employee), the commissioners in hiring Luther got a commitment from Luther that he would cut all activist ties with Stark Republicans.

Chris Nichols, too, has political aspirations as a Republican.

In a story appearing in The Repository in 2010, Nichols talks about his lifelong ambition to one day be United States Senator Chris Nichols.

Luther tells The Report that Nichols agrees to be constrained in his political party activism on the same standards as Luther himself while a commissioner employee.

The SCPR's thinking is that for his employer to have implemented his hiring as the three commissioners did is not exactly the best circumstances under which for Nichols to be hired and that so doing they have undermined their own credibility on the ongoing issue of public trust in how they conduct the county's business.

Another moral of this story is that one never knows on cranking the Stark County commissioners' Jack-In-The-Box what is liable to pop out!

After the meeting, the SCPR brought the matter up to the commissioners.

Here is the video.

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