UPDATED: 07:45 AM
Republican Stark County treasurer Alex Zumbar appears to have done all the things that the State of Ohio auditor's office told Gary Zeigler he should have done during the time he was treasurer from 1999 (appointed by the Stark Democratic Party Democratic Committee to replace Mark Roach) through the revelation on April 1, 2009 that Zeigler's chief deputy Vince Frustaci had stolen perhaps as much as $3MM in Stark County taxpayer dollars.
In the topsy-turvy world of Stark County government and politics circa 2009 through most of 2011 at least insofar as the Stark treasury was concerned it was kind of a "musical chairs" line of succession in the leadership at treasury beginning in August 23, 2010 when the Democratic Board of Stark Commissioners ([Bosley, Ferguson and Meeks] illegally, as it turned out according to the Ohio Supreme Court) replaced fellow Democrat Zeigler with:
- Republican Jaime Allbrittain (for about a month, [she currently is Zumbar's chief deputy]),
- Ken Koher (as the appointee of the Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee in September, 2010 through the general election of November, 2010 when he was defeated by Alex Zumbar
- Alex Zumbar (from November, 2010 through June, 2011 illegally, as it turns out) having been elected in November, 2010 as the appointed candidate (September, 2010) of the Stark County Republican Party, and then
- Gary Zeigler (from June 2011 through October 19, 2011 when he resigned in a deal with Stark County commissioners brokered by then-Democrat-commissioner Thomas Bernabei now the "independent" Thomas Bernabei, mayor of Canton) and then
- Alex Zumbar again as the temporary appointee of the still Democratic controlled Board of Stark County Commissioners (Bernabei, Ferguson [Democrats] and Republican Janet Creighton) on October 19th and again as the appointee of the Stark County Democratic Democratic Party Central Committee on October 31, 2011.
Looks like a Christmas tree, no?
All of which is designed by the SCPR in graphical political connections color format to poignantly show the political chaos and turbulence that the Stark County treasury experienced from April 1, 2009 to some degree to this very day as Zumbar has interruptedly managed to navigate the political mine field and put Stark's treasury on its most solid footing ever!
Along the way Zumbar had to deal with a software integration problem (which caused a massive semi-annual tax billing problem) experienced in the transition of the county auditor's leadership from Democrat Kim Perez:
- (now Canton city treasurer) who many think was a political victim of what local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley termed as being Zeiglergate because of:
- his former close political association with Zeigler, and
- in the view of many, his failure to spot and bring to a stop the Frustaci theft earlier than April 1, 2009
And if the software problem was not enough to have to deal with, political pressure was brought to bear on Zumbar (in and out of office like a ping pong ball he was) to make a dent in the delinquent taxes owed Stark County by citizens because of the fiscal crisis being experienced by the county with the loss of the "imposed" (by Democrat commissioners Bosley and Harmon and Republican Jane Vignos, December, 2008) repealed by a Craig T. Conley led effort in November, 2009.
Besides all of that, Zumbar has a reduced staff.
Zeigler, Zumbar tells the SCPR, had a staff of 24 with all but one being full-time.
Now, Zumbar says, the county treasury has 20 employees with 12 of them being part-time.
Only eight of the current treasury employees are holdovers from the Zeigler era.
On top of being the county treasurer, Alex Zumbar is the leader of the quasi-governmental non-profit Stark County Land Bank which is an entity set up to take in state and federal dollars to help Stark's urban areas (for the most part) rid themselves of blighted properties and/or to rehab salvageable properties.
So it is pretty amazing what Zumbar has accomplished, no?
Zumbar does get miffed at the Stark County Political Report from time-to-time witness blogs which criticize his handling of certain hiring within the treasury (e.g. hiring of fellow Republican Probate judge Dixie Park's daughter and the hiring of a Republican Alliance councilman's daughter) and some of his positions/actions in managing of the county's land bank.
As readers of the SCPR know, no matter how well generally The Report thinks of various Stark County political subdivision officials (Zumbar is on the SCPR "Top 10" List of Elected Officials), nobody is immune from SCPR scrutiny.
The Report's basic mode of journalism (borrowed from former president Ronald Reagan) is "Trust but verify."
And Zumbar like all other Stark officials have been the butt of that approach.
When asked to list what he view as being his accomplishments, this was Zumbar's response:
From: Alex A. Zumbar <email@example.com>
To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 9:43 AM
Subject: Inquiry from May 16 2016.
Below is a short list of areas which I concentrated my efforts after being elected Stark County Treasurer in 2010 and going to work starting on November 30, 2010. There were many issues identified that required correction. Keep in mind, the office was also hampered by the cuts that were still in effect due to the sales tax no longer being in effect. As such I had to prioritize the issues identified from greatest to least importance and develop a strategy on how best to accomplish correcting them on the limited budget that was in place. With the passage of the Sales Tax issue in November of 2011 the budgets in 2012 and going forward would begin to allow resources to become available which would then be used to address other areas of concern that I had identified but could not address due to budgetary concerns.
SCPR PICTURE INSERT OF NEW CONFIGURATION OF "OUTER" OFFICE AREA AT STARK TREASURY
SCPR PICTURE INSERT OF NEW CONFIGURATION OF "OUTER" OFFICE AREA AT STARK TREASURY
[SCPR NOTE: Zumbar was hampered in doing some of the reforms/restructuring of facilities at the county treasury office complex due to—until the passage of and beginning collection of the November, 2011 county 1/2 cent sales tax—a short in county finances to fund capital improvements.
There have been some skirmishes between Zumbar and commissioners over the timing and prior commissioner approval of certain facility improvements.]
ACS Billing and Collection software implemented
Segregation of Duties
Increased Delinquent Tax and Collection efforts
Greater Transparency – Monthly meetings with Auditor & Commissioners to review finances.
Technology updates (New Computers and software upgrades)
Infrastructure/Security upgrades to office
Additional Video Cameras installed
On June 23, 2011 the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio issued a quo warranto and I was removed from office through no fault of mine.
Shortly afterwards I was contacted by Kelli Young to discuss my efforts to correct the deficiencies which were pointed out in the State Audit and what I was able to accomplish during my tenure as Stark County Treasurer. Kelly interviewed Chief Deputy Jaime Allbritain and other sources for her story.
She wrote an article reviewing the State’s recommendations and what had been completed during my time as Treasurer. It can be found at the following link
I have summarized her article below…
Recommendation: Review how much cash the county historically has needed on-hand and contact similarly sized counties to obtain an understanding of how they maintain and control the amount of cash in their vaults. State auditors said the treasurer often had too much cash — sometimes up to $1.4 million — in the office vault, increasing theft risk.
Jaime Allbritain, who served as interim treasurer shortly after Zeigler’s ouster, served as second-in-command to interim Treasurer Kenneth Koher and former Treasurer Alexander Zumbar and now runs the office as chief deputy treasurer until Zeigler obtains his state-required bond, said the office’s three cashiers start and end the day with $500 each in their drawers. If a cashier receives an exorbitant amount during the day, the money is taken to the bank, located in the same building as the treasurer’s office. At least one deposit is made per day, she said. (The amount has since been reduced to $200 per drawer.)
Segregation of duties
Recommendation: Designate separate people to handle different parts of the cash collection process. Auditors said the office’s head cashier was responsible for maintaining cash in the vault, depositing the cash, processing wire transfers and preparing month-end statements. She also served as a backup cashier and collected counter payments when needed. Auditors said the lack of segregation of duties could result in errors or irregularities not being discovered in a timely manner.
Status: Completed. The head cashier no longer serves as backup cashier and no longer maintains a cash drawer in the vault, Allbritain said.
Recommendation: Conduct surprise cash counts of the vault and develop a formal cash counting process that requires the vault to be counted on a regular basis by two employees who are separate from the cash collection process. Auditors found that the cash maintained in the head cashier’s vault was counted only sporadically by employees in charge of the vault. Counts conducted by those in charge of the funds increases the risk that cash could be misappropriated and go undetected, auditors said.
Status: Ongoing. Head Cashier Rota Cutter said she conducts surprise cash counts at least once a month. She said the state also conducted its own count in December. The head cashier also no longer maintains excess money in the vault because any excess funds are deposited in the bank.
Recommendation: Have two employees present when vault cash is counted, the deposit slip is prepared and when the cash is transported to the bank.
Status: No longer applicable. The office no longer keeps excess money in the vault.
Locked cash drawers
Recommendation: Ensure that cashiers secure their cash drawers when they leave their desks. Auditors found that cashier drawers remained unlocked throughout the day and were accessible to office employees and nonemployees.
Status: Completed. Previously, cashiers could not lock their drawers because the locks didn’t exist or they were broken, Allbritain said. Now, all the cashiers have functional locks on their drawers. Employees also must lock their cash drawers in the vault when they go to lunch, she said.
The office vault’s timer, which allows staff to lock the vault overnight and schedule when the vault can be opened, has been repaired and is used daily. The combinations to the lock boxes within the vault also have been changed, and their four-digit combination codes were among different employees so that no single employee has the entire code.
A second set of eyes
Recommendation: Have a second person observe and verify the amount a cashier holds in their individual drawer.
Status: Completed. Initially in November of 2010 when I took office we were unable to accomplish this due to limited staffing — nine fewer full-time workers than in 2008 — a second person wasn’t available to stand by each day. Random cash counts and limiting the cash drawers to $200 helps verify the drawer amounts.
Recommendation: Revise the office’s policy on how to handle when an employee has received an incorrect amount of money or returned incorrect change. Auditors said the office’s policy that cashiers must use their personal funds to pay for shortages in their drawers increases the likelihood of employee turnover and raises the risk an overage will be misappropriated.
Status: Completed. A policy issued in April 2011 states that overages must be given to the office’s head cashier or chief deputy treasurer to be placed in a separate cash box with documentation that provides the cashier’s name, amount and date. The overage is then recorded as “other revenue.” Shortages will be paid by the cashier, documented with the proper notations and recorded as “other expenditures.” Discipline could range from suspension without pay to termination, based on the dollar amount and/or frequency of overages and shortages, according to the policy.
Polices and procedures
Recommendation: Develop an operations manual that addresses procedures for: Collecting payments, closing out daily cash collections, performing daily and monthly reconciliations of the office’s books to bank balances and the county auditor’s fund balances, issuing manual checks, wire transfers and documenting authorizations required for financial transactions.
New policies also have been issued for cash-handling operations, and a whistleblower policy has been created, records show. The blank bank checks the office once manually issued (similar to the ones former Chief Deputy Vince Frustaci used to withdraw $230,000 from a FirstMerit branch) have been shredded and eliminated. Most electronic payments or ACH transfers are now handled by the county auditor’s office, which pays the bills for the county.
Recommendation: Allow the county auditor’s office to periodically compare the month-end statements that are provided by the treasurer’s office to the original records, so the auditor can verify that the provided documents reflect the actual financial activity. State auditors found that previous bank statements given to the county auditor’s office had been altered.
Stark County Auditor office now has viewing privileges for the county’s main operating account at FirstMerit Bank and performs spot checks to ensure the bank balances match the treasurer’s records. Also, in an effort to provide greater transparency there is a monthly meeting that is held with the Auditor and Commissioners to review the County finances.
On October 19, 2011 the County Commissioners appointed me as Treasurer upon the resignation of Treasurer Gary Zeigler.
On October 31, 2011 the Stark County Democrat Central Committee voted to appoint me to replace the former Treasurer.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to further discuss.
Alexander A. Zumbar
Stark County Treasurer
110 Central Plaza South, Ste.#250
Canton, Ohio 44702-1410
Phone (330) 451-7514
Fax (330) 451-7815
Well done, the SCPR says.
Nonetheless, going forward Zumbar can expect a continuation of SCPR scrutiny.