Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The Stark County Political Report learns the "coolest" things at the weekly Stark County commissioner meetings.

Not long ago, The Report learned about Republican Frank C. Braden (whom most of us "commonly" know as "Curt" Braden) making a Stark County Board of Elections related trip to Columbus, but failing to get the government rate at the posh Hyatt Regency in Columbus.  Of course, you know who paid for Braden's failure to get the taxpayer rate.  Of course!  The taxpayers.

Commissioner Bosley asked "mischievously" (so The Report thinks) when the post-travel reimbursement request came before the commissioners, "Frank C. Braden? Is this Curt Braden?"  "Yes," opined one of the other officials staffing the meeting.

It was Commissioner Meeks who caught the premium that Braden was asking taxpayers to pay.  Remember, Bosley and Meeks are both Democrats.

One might be impressed with Meeks' observation had he followed through and said "You know, Braden has to know better than not get the government rate, I make a motion that we reimburse him at the $99 per night government rate."

But Meeks didn't. He clearly dropped the ball.

Recently, three requests by Stark County recorder Rick Campbell came before the commissioners at an official commissioner meeting.

The requests were that the commissioners approve up to $1,907.00 for Campbell and two key employees (Gonzalez and Owens)
to go to Put-in-Bay, Ohio (on the shores of Lake Erie) for a summer conference on the resort island.

The Report does not recall exactly which hotel that Campbell et al will be staying at, but at least one of the inns on Put-in-Bay plays up the resort nature of Put-in-Bay, to wit:

What's more, the travel requests (all three) stated  (via a check marked box) that attending the conference is "mandatory."

Isn't Put-in-Bay in mid-June a "sweet spot" for one to have to go to for a "mandatory" summer conference?

Wow!  Who wouldn't want to be a county recorder or top level employee!!  Sign me up!!!

If Campbell can show that attendance is mandatory, so be it.  However, the SCPR suspects that it is not.  And, if it is not, then for county officials to be attending the conference is sending the wrong message to taxpayers at any time, but especially so in the midst of a county financial crisis.

Of late, the SCPR has been noting Commissioner Meeks' detailed questioning of many of the expense requests  that come befire the commissioners. The Report is not sure if such will continue if Meeks gets elected commissioner.  It is campaign season, after all.  But county finances are such that excruciating and detailed examination of each and every expenditure needs to be done as a matter of course.  And not just in a run up to an election.

Notwithstanding his apparent "inquiring mind," The Report believes Meeks had a bad day on scrutinizing Recorder Campbell's requests.

Really?  In what way(s)?

First, the requests (three in number, remember) all had the box "mandatory" checked on them.



Yes, and The Report thinks Meeks - if he was exercising due diligence as questioner - should have requested support staff have Campbell come to the next regular commissioner meeting to answer in public view a series of questions:

First:  "Please explain why are these requests for mandatory travel."

Second, he would have wanted to ask:  "Why are three recorder employees attending the very same conference?"  (These are not just any three employees, but include the recorder himself, his chief deputy and another titled employee)

A third question would most certainly have been:  "How can you Recorder Campbell afford to have three key personnel out of the office at the same time?"

Campbell did tell The Report that having all three out of the office at one time will have an adverse affect, to wit:
As I believe continuing education is beneficial to my staff, my staffing level will be lower than optimal for several days.
Talk about euphemism:  " ... staffing level will be lower than optimal ... ."  Hmm?

As far as the SCPR is concerned, Campbell never has forthrightly answered The Report's inquiry for justification of the checked "mandatory" box on the travel requests.  Here is the sum total of Campbell's responses to The Report's pressing on that particular question, to wit:
The conference has discussions, workshops, classes, and networking that allow my staff and myself to learn and discuss issues, problems, laws, and legislation related to our jobs, so that we may improve in our service.
I earn continuing education credits, which allow me to keep my Ohio Recorders Association Certification for Continuing Education.  
Campbell's response beg more questions.  It does not answer the baseline question head on.

To repeat, the SCPR is suspicious that a case for mandatory does not exist.  Why?  Because a specific, direct responsive statement that Put-in-Bay is a mandatory event for him to fulfill his "certification" requirement is missing from email exchanges between The Report and Campbell.  Moreover, what are the specifics that make it mandatory for Gonzalez and Owens to attend?

Remember, all the commissioners have is a checked box on the document requesting travel.

An ongoing mission of the SCPR is to have commissioners (whomever they may be), thoroughly vet each and every expenditure that they approve out of the county general fund.  For if a 0.25% of one percent existing county tax is not renewed, according to County Administrator Mike Hanke; Stark County departments of government are looking at up to 35% in cuts come 2012.

If the approval process is to be anything other than a mere rubber stamp process, commissioners must go beyond the checked box answer.

At the approval meeting, Commissioner Meeks referred to some sort of discussion between the commissioners' office and Campbell on the requests prior to their approval at the formal commissioner meeting.

Why wasn't Campbell told to come to the formal meeting and explain his reasons for needing (in the mandatory sense of need) to spend up to $1,907.00 of taxpayer money?

The SCPR knows from experience that Recorder Campbell likes to come to commissioner meetings.  What could be a more appropriate setting for him having attended?

The Report believes the commissioners should revisit its approval of the recorder's requests with incisive questioning to ensure to taxpayers that they are convinced that, indeed, it is mandatory that Campbell and his two subordinates attend the Put-in-Bay conference.

The Report has heard all three commissioners pontificate about the need of county officials to be exacting in spending public money.

The Report's question is this.  Are the commissioners' words mere rhetoric or are they willing to ask penetrating questions and deny approval when they are not satisfied with the answers?

In short, are the commissioners creditable guardians of the public treasury?

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