Thursday, March 31, 2016








For several weeks The Stark County Political Report has been hearing that Derek Gordon may be on his way out as Canton Parks & Recreation director.

And the reports have come from as many as three sources.

While whom serves as director is at the say of the newly formed and—independent of the mayor of Canton— Canton Parks and Recreation District (CP&RD) which is a combination of the former Canton Park Commission and the Canton Joint Recreation District; it would be politically naive to think Mayor Thomas M. Bernabei had nothing to do with the coming opening up of the question of who will be director going forward.

The Report hears that in its April 15, 2016 meeting, the Canton Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners will open up the question of whom will serve as that body's director going forward and will invite applications for the position with Gordon being welcome to reapply.

It was startling to say the least in viewing the results of the November, 2015 general election to see funding for the combined entity to down to defeat.

In the same election, Bernabei, a political independent, defeated two-term incumbent Democratic mayor William J. Healy, II.

Without specifically knowing the thinking of the mayor-elect on the heels of the levy defeat, his moves in replacing two of the commissioners on the parks commission with Mike Hanke (former Stark County commissioners' chief administrator and former Repository editor) and Sam Sliman provide a clue to the politically discerning.

Replaced were last serving commissioners Wuyanbu Zutali and Terry Prater.

Accordingly, the SCPR speculates that Gordon is likely on his way out as director as being the the focal point of blame for the November 3rd levy failure.

But The Report has reason to believe that there is still a glimmer of hope for Gordon that he will be retained.

Word is that there is daily input being made that there are those in the greater Canton community who think Gordon has done a superlative job as director and ought to be retained.

However, the bad news for Gordon is that there appears to be an equal number who have lost confidence in his leadership abilities and skills and want him replaced.

It appears to yours truly that the "decider-in-chief" will be commission member Sam Sliman.

Not that fellow commissioner members Andy Black (a long time figure commissioner) and Mike Hanke will not be part of the process.  But The Report thinks Sliman and his vast experience with personnel matters will be the key component of the decision making process.

And Gordon could not ask for a more fair determiner than Sliman working with the equally fair-minded Black and Hanke.

Sliman currently is Canton's:
  • civil service chief,
  • coordinator of annexation, and
  • Equal Employment Opportunity compliance official,
Sliman in the days in which Canton was aggressively pursuing annexation (LINK) once appeared at a Stark County Board of County Commissioners' meeting and billed himself as "the townships' Darth Vader."

Most importantly for Sliman is that he has civil service protection and therefore is not subject to the whims of mayors past, present or future who may want to replace him.

Sliman began his service with the Republican Richard Watkins administration, survived the Democratic Healy administration is already making his mark as a key figure in the administration of "independent" mayor Thomas M. Bernabei.

It has to be "a breath of fresh air" for Sliman and other Healy holdover officials to be working for a mayor who does not create problems for them in terms of all too often having to be in a "CYA" mode in order to protect the mayor as The Report hears was the case with William J. Healy, II.

The SCPR thinks the key architect of the passage of the parks and recreation levy on March 15th was J.R. Rinaldi.

Sliman, Black and Gordon worked with him,  witness this video (posted below photos) of a recognition of them at Monday's Canton City Council regular meeting.  But there is no doubt that Rinaldi was the driving force behind the successful effort.

Recognition presenter, Council Majority Leader Frank Morris, III (Ward 9), was himself once a Canton Parks commissioner.

The video:

(Note:  Sliman commends Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce president Denny Saunier for the chamber's help in getting the levy passed)

Rinaldi is vice president of the Canton City Schools Board of Education anidd long time union ironworker who has a close relationship with Mayor Bernabei.

The turnaround in results from November, 2015 to March, 2016 was absolutely stunning!

And, to repeat, the 20 percentage point reversal is owing to the leadership of J.R. Rinaldi.

All of which brings up an interesting question.

If Gordon is not retained, will J.R. Rinaldi be his successor?

The Report has it on impeccable information that Rinaldi will make a pitch to become director.

Interesting, no?

On the recreation side of Canton Parks and Recreation, Rinaldi has very strong credentials (LINK).

For years he managed equipment and clubhouse functions for Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers (LINK).

And he is not afraid of controversy, to wit:

Should Rinaldi become Canton Parks & Recreation director, there has to be a heavy ironic twist to that occurring to fellow Canton City Schools board member Eric Resnick whom Rinaldi defeated in 2013 in their bitter, bitter electoral face off in 2013.

Resnick was president of the Canton Joint Recreation District (CJRD, interesting enough, Rinaldi was on that same board mostly in opposition to Resnick) and was the leading opposition figure to the merger of the CJRD and the Canton Parks Commission.

An argument can be made that Resnick's opposition played a significant role in Issue 37's defeat in November, 2015.

For one has to believe had Issue 37 passed, there would be no thought of replacing Gordon.

Had Resnick known that Rinaldi might some day be a beneficiary Issue 37 being defeated, think maybe that he might be reassessing and realizing that he may have outfoxed himself on the matter and contributed to the unleashing dynamics contra political interests?

Who leads Canton Parks and Recreation going forward is vitally important inasmuch as going forward the CP&RD is embarked on implementing a Master Plan.

It could well boil down to a Gordon/Rinaldi decision.

If so, the overriding question on the ultimate decision will inevitably be:  Is it based on merit or primarily on political factors.

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