Tuesday, August 11, 2015




        Today at 10:32 AM

To:  tramols@att.net

In your analysis of the commissioners spending spree, you forgot the increases from Gary Rushe to Thomas McMillan @ $60K to Lee Henderson @ 70k

"It's beginning to look like its Christmas" in July, in Stark County government!

As recently as six months ago, the SCPR believed that the commissioners were still being responsible stewards of Stark County taxpayer money in light of Stark Countians providing some $22 million or more (depending on sales tax collection rates) annually with the passage of a Justice System Sales Tax [JSST] levy (1/2 cent) in November, 2011 with collections beginning on the newly passed issue on April 1, 2012.

With the recent gigantic pay raise the commissioners gave to chief county administrator Brant Luther, the SCPR thinks it is now abundantly clear that yours truly was way too generous on the commissioners' "as of late" fiscal responsibility with the 2012 and going forward infusion of new revenues.

Far removed are the days of the commissioners jawboning of the likes of the Stark County Board of Elections on the "unelected" by anybody board handing out in excess of the 2% guidelines in annual raises, to wit:'

Yours truly was there in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 budget hearings when the commissioners (Creighton [took office January 1, 2011]; Bernabei [November, 2010]) ripped apart many Stark County department heads (elected and unelected) for their management of Stark County taxpayer money in terms of raises being handed out to various employees.

In the main, Commissioners Bernabei and Creighton were all over the likes of the Veterans Service Commission, the coroner's office, the recorder's office, the probate court and quite a number of other county officials to "hold the line" in the 2012 through 2014 fiscal years.

But the 2015 county budget hearings were completely different.

Very little if any hassling of department heads over their budget requests for 2015.

Very little if any talk about the 2% commissioner "bully pulpit" exhortations of 2012, 2013 and 2014 have been in play in 2015.

While in preceding years the commissioners had and still have no legal no power to control how other elected-on-their own department heads (e.g. Stark County coroner, Stark County prosecutor et cetera) parcel out appropriations for the given fiscal year; the expectation was that in the interest of showing the Stark County public fiscal responsibility, the commissioners had the expectation that department wide raises would not exceed 2% of the department budget for any such year.

The absence of the 2% limit talk should have raised "red flags."

And the SCPR should have smelled a rat, metaphorically speaking, of course.


What rat?

That the commissioners themselves apparently knew then that they were going to hand County Administrator Brant Luther a substantial raise in pay.  Only the politically naive think these things pop up out of "the middle of nowhere."

First of all, let's get this little matter out-of-the-way.

Nearly every time that yours truly writes a hard hitting blog, the subjects of such a blog scream like stuck-with-a-pin-prick pigs.

"Oh!" the detractors may say, "Martin has it in for so-and-so."

As a matter of fact, it "appears" to yours truly that Brant Luther does a fine job as county administrator.

Of course, there are a number of subjects of this blog who yours truly does not think well of either in their government role on with respect to personal characteristics.

Luther has always be highly accessible and answerable to yours truly's questions and seems to always be prepared at commissioner meetings with answers to questions presented by the commissioners and others at the weekly Wednesday meetings as well as frequent work sessions apt to be held on Mondays and Tuesdays of each week.

But the numbers of his remuneration since he became county administrator have been of the skyrocket variety.

And, to boot, the last yours truly knew, Luther, an attorney-at-law, maintains a private practice of law.

On assumes, that when he needs to do his private legal work during normal daytime hours; he takes vacation.

When this former Commissioner Creighton connected person (Luther succeeded her [as the Stark County Republican appointee] as Stark County auditor when she became mayor of Canton on January 1, 2004) hired in with the commissioners as chief administrator on Feburary 6, 2013 he was paid $55,000 as the head of the Stark County Family Court Guardian Ad Litem program.

Luther was hired:
  • in at $82,500 
    • a whopping 50% increase over what he was making as head of the Family Court Guardian Ad Litem program
  • with a boost after a short probationary period to $85,000; a 3% increase,
  • with another boost to $86,715; a 2% increase for 2014,
  • with yet another boost to $88,441; a 2% increase for 20115,
  • and finally as of July 1, 2015 to $98,450; a 11.3% increase.

From his days as a guardian ad litem program director through July 1, 2015, Brant Luther  gets 68.3% in salary increases in the space of some 28 months.

Who wouldn't like going from $55,000 to $98,450 at such a rapid pace?

Now get this.

When Luther's predecessor Mike Hanke retired on March 31, 2013, he was according to county budget director Chris Nichols making $78,000 [he started in 2007 at $70,000].

However, Hanke was a one-man-show.

No so with Luther.

For one he has Nichols who competed with him to become county administrator as his budget director.

With Nichols on board (who, by the way got his job without it having been posted), Luther's job is a lot less taxing than Hanke's was.

While Hanke got assistance from Rick Flory, for all intents and purposes Mike Hanke (a former Repository employee and last general manager at The Rep), was spread so thin it was amazing to yours truly that he was able to juggle so many balls in his capacity as county chief administrator.

Moreover, going back and looking at the data since the flow of new monies to the county treasury began with the increased collection some three years (to the anniversary date:  April 1) after now imprisoned deputy treasurer Vince Frustaci stole in neighborhood of $3 million and thereby added fire to a county fiscal crisis started by former Stark County commissioners Todd Bosley, Tom Harmon and Jane Vignos in December, 2008 when they "imposed" a 1/2 sales tax increase; The Report takes back yours truly assessment in March of 2015 that the Stark County commissioners were still minding the Stark County fiscal storehouse responsible.

While The Report is not yet prepared to say "as a whole" they are being irresponsible, yours truly thinks they have been irresponsible in shelling out - on July 31st - effective as of July 1, 2015, a 11.3% increase to Luther.

And it appears that - on overall county budget management - the current Janet Creighton, Tom Bernabei and Richard Regula as commissioners are not what they were in prior budget year proceedings in terms of fiscal austerity.

Consequently, the SCPR intends on ramping up the scrutiny of these commissioners going forward.

The currentl levy lasts through 2019.

From what The Report is seeing, any renewal request deserves a high degree of vetting.

Coming by archived material by which to vet is hard to come on the part of Stark County voters/taxpayers given a drop off of the thoroughness of the folks at The Repository in following county finances.

However, yours truly will through the SCPR pages endeavor to periodically write blogs on the particularities of county finances as administrated by the commissioners to equip Stark Countians with information to ask meaningful questions when the JSST levy comes up for renewal.

The JSST should not be renewed if there proves to be a continuing trend of "Katie bar to door" financial management with the county.

One county official on being informed by yours truly that the SCPR was going to do a blog on the Luther increase admonished that The Report do "due diligence" (yours truly's expression; not the county official's) and check around Ohio to see how Luther stacked up  when compared to county administrators in similarly situated counties.

The Report thought a little about that entreaty.

However, given the astronomical increase (remember 68.3%), such in and of itself tells one that how the commissioners have handled the Luther remuneration factor is irresponsible.

As for the comparing to other counties:  Who is to say that the other counties - assuming they pay substantially more than Stark - have the correct measure of the value of someone like Luther in terms of pay grade?

The obvious point is that "we Stark Countians are getting a bargain."

In addition to the Luther situation, there is evidence that the commissioners have made questionable additions at the high end of direct Stark County commissioner office employment.

Look at the compilation of data from county fiscal records maintained by Stark County auditor Alan Harold:  (Note:  Luther's $98,450 came from media reports and Hanke's $78,000 last pay figure came from Stark County Budget Director Chris Nichols)

While they were working over other departments of Stark County government (i.e. 2012, 2013 and 2014), it appears to the SCPR that the commissioners have been on a spending spree.

A 45% increase for the commissioners department of Stark County government, but "a fine toothed comb" for others in county government except perhaps for Stark County sheriff George T. Maier who seems to The Report to be on an unrestrained spending for increased personnel of his own.  (To come soon, "a zero in on Maier" analysis)

When The Report gets to Maier, yours truly believes that readers will see clearly how blatantly political Maier is in his hiring practices and management of existing employees including, it appears, unionized deputies.

No doubt that Mike Hanke was spread too thin.

But as far as the SCPR is concerned, the commissioners have overdone it in adding high end, highly paid hires to the Stark County commissioner department payroll.

Undoubtedly, they will want to object to the inclusion of Kimble and Bridenstine as commissioner specific employees.

Let them object.

The SCPR for one is not buying that they should not be counted as commissioner employees and neither should Stark County taxpayers.

The bulk of the work if not all of it in Kimble's case is for the benefit of providing direct support to the commissioners as they come to various decisions about how to proceed with county government.  And while Bridenstine may be used more widely across Stark County government, make no mistake about it.  He is primarily the core legal support person for the commissioners.

One more word about the Kimble hire.

He, the SCPR thinks, was an "aspirational" hire.

The commissioners who as a matter of Ohio's statutory law have little if any control over department of governments (except, of course, the commissioners' office itself) over personnel decisions.

While the motivation to hire him may be laudable, the foremost question is whether or not his hire was a good use of Stark County taxpayer money.

Returning to the Luther situation, it is a mystery,
  • wrapped in an enigma, 
  • wrapped in a conundrum, 
  • wrapped in puzzle 
as to why the commissioners have been so generous with Stark County taxpayer dollars to the benefit of Administrator Luther.
The Report does not want to think that partisan political party factors are at play in Luther's being hired.  But there certainly may have been.

For that matter, with the numerous blogs the SCPR has written about the Stark County Dems (who in recent times have held most Stark County countywide offices) and the inside track that certain Democrats have at getting organized Stark County Democratic Party appointments or Stark County political subdivision jobs (unbid to the general public)  obviously because they have political insider connections, it is refreshing to write about the Republicans - when they get the opportunity - will do exactly the same things.

Both major political parties - The Report thinks - use taxpayer dollars to create a political party support group.

And this phenomenon contributes to the general public's growing distancing from America's political processes.  The perpetrators of this phenomenon seemingly never connect the dots that they are part of the growing alienation of ordinary citizens from our democratic-republican system of government.

Luther seems to have been joined at the political hip of Commissioner Janet Creighton since 1999 when The Report understands he went to work for her when she was Stark County auditor.

As indicated above, he rose quickly in her estimation so as to be in a position to succeed her as a Stark County GOP appointee as the county auditor when she took office as mayor of Canton in January, 2004.

Notwithstanding his political advantage, he could not hold the office in that he was defeated by Democrat Kim Perez (then Canton city auditor) in the November, 2004 office.

However, after being defeated he did land what the SCPR thinks were "because of his political connections" jobs in the Stark County Probate Court and then in the Stark County Family Court in the offing for him.

Again, remember, he was - after all - the choice of Stark County "organized" Republicans to be county auditor.   Such appointments do not go to "unconnected" political people.  And he is a former Alliance city councilman.

To reiterate, yours truly likes Brant Luther personally and thinks that he is doing quality work as county administrator.

But as regular readers of The Report know, personally liking or disliking has nothing whatsoever to do with yours truly's assessment of what goes on in Stark County political subdivision government.

While "quality of work" for the Stark County public is a top if the THE TOP consideration in The Report's evaluation of various Stark County political subdivision government, yours truly is having a hard time handling the accelerated and astronomical pay increase for Luther in a county which has many unmet infrastructure needs and as setting a hypocritical standard for what county officials (including, of course, the commissioners themselves) in other county departments of government ought to be doing in terms of their department payrolls.

The commissioners in what the SCPR thinks is an irresponsibility vis-a-vis Luther and adding "unnecessary" (e.g. perhaps Bridenstine and Kimble) other high end employees on their part may well be setting up future Boards of Stark County Commissioners for a vote of no confidence come a 2019 and a need to renew the JSST.

As financial houses do in evaluating the fiscal soundness of the companies which appear on America's stock exchanges, with this blog The Report"downgrades" the Stark County commissioners to "guarded" from the "prudent" rating (i.e. not a return to "the good old days")  March, 2015 SCPR assessment.

As of August 11, 2015, it is clear that commissioners of today are not the commissioners of 2011, 2012, 2013 and even as late of 2014.

2019 will be here sooner than the commissioners think, no?

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