Friday, January 17, 2014

(VIDEOS) PART 2: COMMISSIONERS "KNUCKLE DOWN" ON DEPARTMENT HEADS & COUNTY EMPLOYEE RAISES



UPDATE:  09:25 AM

 VIDEOS
==================
P.S. MURTHY
CORONER
==========================
TAMMI JOHNSON
PUBLIC DEFENDER 
==========================
GARY ICKES
VETERANS SERVICE COMMISSION 
==========================
ALEX ZUMBAR
TREASURER
==========================
NANCY REINBOLD
CLERK OF COURTS 
========================

UPDATE NOTE

A SCPR reader (in an email earlier today) makes an important point about certain pay increases to some county employees.  These are employees under union contract with Stark County.  Their raises ARE NOT SUBJECT to the commissioners 2% guideline because, of course, they are determine by contract language.

Sheriff George Maier was in to see the commissioners yesterday with his budget presentation.

He informed the commissioners that nearly all the sheriff department employees (except for about a dozen non-bargaining employees) are subject to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.  So the numbers for sheriff department employees posted by the SCPR (LINK) in the January 15th blog fall into the category indicated in the readers email, to wit:
I appreciate your thoroughness in digging into the county's finances. I am a daily reader who usually enjoys your posts.

However, I think you may be missing something about these list of people. You state that the names on the list are those who received more than a 2% raise. What you seem to fail to recognize, is that these are contracted raises, which where set in motion years ago before the 2% guidelines ever existed, and approved by these very commissioners, save Regula.

Take the Sheriff's office for example. The Corrections, Communications, Maintenance workers, and others received raises based on a contract going back 3 years. Accordingly,neither the employees nor the Sheriff have any control about the percentage they received for these last 3 years. Once the contract was signed, and again, agreed upon BY THE COMMISSIONERS, it was set in stone.

And these aren't outright raises. Most of the percentage comes from step increases based on time served in the position, until they reach the positions top-out pay rate. So an employee who gets a 1% raise, and also gains a step due to years of service, will appear on your list as getting a 7% raise. Very misleading.

This goes for many of the department heads you seem to be lambasting here on your blog. How could they possibly abide by a 2% guideline, when such a guideline didn't even exist back when the union contracts were approved...by the commissioners?

They are locked into giving these employees the agreed upon percentage, no matter how much the commissioners scold them.

I know you look out for the common taxpaying citizen, so perhaps you would bring this little fact up to the commissioners. that they are actually the ones responsible for these percentages, as they were the ones who approved them in the first place.
A SCPR thank you to this reader.

============================

ORIGINAL BLOG

THE BACKGROUND

In the continuing Stark County Political Report series, today's coverage of the Stark County commissioners' budget hearings focuses on:
  • P.S. Murthy of the Coroner's office,
  • Tammi Johnson of the Public Defender's office,
  • Gary Ickes of the Veterans Service Commission,
  • Alex Zumbar of the Treasurer's office,
  • Nancy Reinbold of the Clerk of Courts, and
  • Tim Warstler of Stark's Emergency Management office
SCPR Note:  The listing of department employees presented in today's blog is based on information collected by Chris Nichols of the commissioners' office for use by the commissioners in understanding "trends" of raises in the offices as they review budget matters with department leaders.

The list is not intended to list each and every department employee and the SCPR has pared it down to include only those receiving more that the 2% commissioner recommended raises for fiscal year 2013.


As the commissioners gain experience and hear the "tales of woe" from many of the the department heads, to wit:
  • employees have not had pay raises in 3, 4 or 5 years,
  • pay raises are "a must" to prevent an exodus of employees,
  • the pay raises do not come out of general fund money,
  • such and such employee is critically important above all others in the operation of the department, and,
  • the department is returning "unused" money from last fiscal year
    • SCPR NOTE:  The commissioners suspect that in some cases department heads over request in a given year so that the are always returning money and thereby give the illusion they are being frugal
they are developing rejoinders that effective blunt the justifications all of which seem to be on a "list of reasons" that seems to be circulating among department heads as a sort of "cheat sheet" or "talking points" when a particular department head appears before the commissioners.

One thing that The Report notices about the commissioners is that one of the three, sometimes a couple of them, do seem to bore in on some officials with just a little extra "umph" over others.

Readers will see in the coverage of Treasurer Alex Zumbar and CEO Gary Ickes of the Veterans Service Commission that the seeming extra "umph" is in play whereas others get more benign treatment.

SPECIFIC OFFICEHOLDERS (ELECTED & UNELECTED)
    CORONER P.S. MURTHY


    It was a sight to behold as the commissioners parried back and forth with Coroner P.S. Murthy.

    As readers know from the January 15th opening blog in this series, the focus of the budget hearings is on the percentage of raises that is given in each department of Stark County government.

    The commissioners and Murthy are seen in the following video contending over a raise given to one of Murthy's "key" employees (John Williams) getting an 8% raise in 2014 out of the general fund (in violation of the commissioners' guidelines of 2%) with a proposal for another 10% raise in 2014.



    PUBLIC DEFENDER TAMMI JOHNSON


    Compared to what Stark County area attorneys make in income, Stark's public defenders are clearly underpaid.

    Consequently, the commissioners seem sympathetic with the "in excess of 2%" raises (2013 as seen above) in apparent violation of the commissioners' guideline and did not - in the opinion of the SCPR - "bring the hammer down"  (a well known quip uttered by Cleveland Cavalier analyst Austin Carr) on top Public Defender Tammi Johnson.

    Moreover, the Defender's plan for 2014 is projected at 2% "across-the-board" increase which had to ingratiate them with the commissioners which is likely another reason why Director Johnson did not get any flak.



    VETERANS SERVICE COMMISSION DIRECTOR GARY ICKES


    Ickes has only been the head guy at the Veterans Service Commission (VSC) since January 1st, but he had a pretty rough outing with the Stark commissioners in the commission's budget presentation.

    But there is a history between the commissioners and former executive director Bob Toth.

    To get a full appreciation of what the SCPR thinks is "bad blood" that exists between the  commissioners and the VSC, readers of this blog need to read The Report's June 8, 2011 blog (LINK).

    While much of the accompanying video is an amiable exchange between Director Ickes and Diane Caswell (executive secretary) and two of the VSC's board members, Commissioner Creighton gets pointed with the VSC representatives (see video at 13:30 mark) over his "history" based frustrations on dealing with the Veterans Service Commission.



    STARK COUNTY TREASURER ALEX ZUMBAR


    Probably of all the budget hearings, the one between the commissioners and Treasurer Alex Zumbar was the most contentions.

    At one point n the discussion, Commissioner Bernabei remembered that in addition to being president of the Board of Stark County commissioners, he is an attorney.  For many years Bernabei was Canton's law director.

    He honed in on Zumbar and kept coming back with question after question after question in what he thought was smoking Zumbar out in terms of forcing him to give a direct answer on projected pay increases for 2014 and the source of those expected raises as between the county general fund (which Zumbar is accountable to the commissioners on) and "special revenue resources" (i.e. DTAC:  "Delinquent Tax & Assessment Collection" funds) which he is not.

    Commissioners Creighton and Regula also joined in on grilling Zumbar.

    The SCPR focuses on the sharp exchanges in the following video.





    The SCPR talked with Zumbar a day or so after the budget hearing and The Report's recalled impression is that Treasury Zumbar was not a very happy camper as to the way commissioners treated him.  The Report has gotten the sense that Zumbar is not the only county - independent of the commissioners - "elected" official who feel like they are being "grandstanded upon" on the "raises" issue and are more than "just a little ticked" about how the hearings are being handled.

    Particularly troublesome and irritating to these officials is the commissioners pulling out the 2013 raise schedule provided to them by the auditor's office under parameters devised by Budget Director Chris Nichols.

    As noted, the "note" above, the 2013 schedule is not designed to deal with the nuances of why certain employees (not all) getting raises got them (e.g. a promotion, a reconfiguration of job title and the like) or any other factor (e.g. Coroner Murthy on "how utterly important and heretofore "under paid" employee John Williams is).

    The SCPR's take is that "the unhappy campers" are distressed at the commissioners' focus on numbers to the exclusion of extenuating circumstances is "on-the-face-of-it" unfair.

    The Report's take on the commissioners is that they are listening to the justifications given on the "excessive" (in their minds) raises but that they are skeptical and suspicious that some officials are "playing games with them" which is somewhat like the proverbial "shell game."

    CLERK OF COURTS NANCY REINBOLD



    Clerk of Courts Reinbold "takes the prize" has being the most aggressive department head in terms of asking for "more money" with which to give her employees an "across the board" 5% increase.

    And this is on top of many of her employees receiving a 3% increase last year.

    Of course, the commissioners turned her down and will be sticking to the 2% guideline they have told department heads that they were going to have to be satisfied with.

    Like other department heads, Reinbold had the "stock" reasons why her employees deserve the 5%.

    However, she did have a novel one.  That being that her employees are "more important" than others because they deal with critical matters (e.g. the courts handling criminal defendants). 

    The commissioners did make it clear to her that there would be no 5% and she told the news with ease in saying "Well, if you don't ask you're not going to get what you think you ought to have" (paraphrase).



    The SCPR heard before she was reelected in November, 2012 that she would be retiring not too long after she took her new term of office.

    And this week conjecture about her retirement surfaced anew.  However, this time there was more specificity.  What is being said is that she will wait until after the May primary election before making the announcement.

    Division Administrator and Plan Township trustee Louis Giavasis (brother of Canton clerk of courts Phil Giavasis [a former Stark County clerk of courts who The Report designated Reinbold as his successor when he moved over to Canton]) tells the SCPR that Nancy has never told him that she plans on retiring, but if she does, he says that he is going to contend to be her successor.

    The Report hears that another well connected Democrat is being set up by his high political connection to succeed Reinbold, should she retire according to the speculated timetable.

    It could be that Stark Countians will see another occurrence of political infighting within the Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee for the appointment if Reinbold does not serve out a full term.

    CONCLUSION

    While the commissioners' scrutiny of the pay issue appears to be bewildering if not irritating to some of the officials who appeared before Bernabei, Creighton and Regula, that the commissioners' dig in and persist in getting answers should be reassuring to Stark County taxpayers.

    One can understand that department heads are under pressure from the employee base to find money for raises, however, the fact of the matter is that Stark County went bare bones in asking for a 0.5% sales tax increase in November, 2011 and the county is ill equipment in terms of available revenues to do much on that front.

    Under the spartan funding situation that Stark County finds itself in, it seems to The Report that the commissioners have embraced "being the cop on the beat" (as uncomfortable as it surely is for them) in dispensing discipline over the funds they control (i.e. "the county general fund").

    Six years down the road will come sooner than anybody now thinks.

    The question then will be up to the voters of Stark Countians.

    And that question will be whether or not the voting public thinks that county officeholder leaders have been frugal stewards of public monies and therefore deserving of the public's trust for a continuation of the 2011 Justice System Sales Tax.

    From the SCPR's perspective, the commissioners are slowly but surely getting the frugality/efficiency model firmly implanted in the minds and more importantly, the practices of department heads and in achieving such should have the county in good stead with Stark's voters come 2019.

    1 comment:

    Michael Smith said...

    I appreciate your thoroughness in digging into the county's finances. I am a daily reader who usually enjoys your posts.

    However, I think you may be missing something about these list of people. You state that the names on the list are those who received more than a 2% raise. What you seem to fail to recognize, is that these are contracted raises, which where set in motion years ago before the 2% guidelines ever existed, and approved by these very commissioners, save Regula.

    Take the Sheriff's office for example. The Corrections, Communications, Maintenance workers, and others received raises based on a contract going back 3 years. Accordingly,neither the employees nor the Sheriff have any control about the percentage they received for these last 3 years. Once the contract was signed, and again, agreed upon BY THE COMMISSIONERS, it was set in stone.

    And these aren't outright raises. Most of the percentage comes from step increases based on time served in the position, until they reach the positions top-out pay rate. So an employee who gets a 1% raise, and also gains a step due to years of service, will appear on your list as getting a 7% raise. Very misleading.

    This goes for many of the department heads you seem to be lambasting here on your blog. How could they possibly abide by a 2% guideline, when such a guideline didn't even exist back when the union contracts were approved...by the commissioners?

    They are locked into giving these employees the agreed upon percentage, no matter how much the commissioners scold them.

    I know you look out for the common taxpaying citizen, so perhaps you would bring this little fact up to the commissioners. that theyare actually the ones responsible for these percentages, as they were the ones who approved them in the first place.