Thursday, December 2, 2010


The SCPR never had any doubt that Steven Meeks with his political connections would not want for employment after getting trounced by former Canton mayor and Bush administration official Janet Weir Creighton on November 2nd.

But The Report admits to being somewhat surprised as to where Meeks has apparently landed.
The Report is told that Meeks has become acting Director of the Jackson-Belden Chamber of Commerce beginning yesterday.

What is surprising about acting Director Meeks of the Jackson-Belden Chamber of Commerce?

First of all, chambers of commerce are thought by most political observers to be the haunts of Republicans not Democrats.  And Meeks is a Democrat and his Uncle John at one time was a heavy hitter in Columbus-centered Democratic politics.  His family connections might explain how he became lame duck Governor Ted Strickland's Region 9 director in 2007 after Strickland took office.  And he does have powerful friends in Jackson.  However, Stark County Democratic Party chair Randy Gonzalez says he did not know about Meeks becoming acting director before it happened and certainly had nothing to do with arranging it.

The SCPR has learned that there are Jackson Township Republicans who are dissatisfied with the role that Meeks predecessor Ruthanne Wilkof handled the chamber's connection to the Boccieri (Democrat - Alliance) Renacci (Republican - Wadworth) 16th Congressional District race.  Here is an except from an e-mail received by The Report, to wit:
But beware this is sure to set off some intrigue with the local Republican base and even higher. It was the past executive director of the chamber, along with Meeks, that escorted Boccieri during his re-election campaign.  Meeks, Gonzalez, the township trustees and Ruth Wilkof as chamber director, personally escorted Boccieri to selected merchant stops during his political re-election campaign walk to township businesses.  Where was Rennaci (sic) or his invitation from the chamber?  No one knows but perhaps those who did the walking and talking. This was so obvious on its face. Using a Jackson business chamber by all Democrat township officials to further Boccierri's (sic) re-election campaign just had a peculiar smell to it. You think they would have at least scheduled it during a time when Rennaci was unavailable of out of town so they could have said the same and at least appeared impartial.

The question becomes why would Jackson Township continue to throw salt in and already created wound with Rennacci (sic) and the local Republicans by appointing Meeks to a position as chamber acting director?  This is even more peculiar after the overwhelming showing of Rennacci (sic) and the Republicans in Jackson Township and elsewhere.  What achievement had Meeks attained after his appointment by Strickland as this area's economic regional director, except to cash his paycheck?

This is a time when we need economic development and creative thinkers in the worst way. Not more of "business as usual" with political paybacks and backslapping going on.

Another interesting factor in the Meeks' appointment is that his wife Patricia is a member of the Jackson-Belden Board of Directors.

Readers of the SCPR will recall that Meeks, when in 2007 he became Strickland's eyes and ears in Region 9 apparently tried to pass off his Jackson trusteeship to Patrica by her running for his position.  The plan did not work as Republican Jamie Walters defeated her.

Last year Meeks begin planning for "life after Strickland" when it became increasingly apparent that Strickland was going to have a hard time being re-elected with the loss of 400,000 plus jobs in Ohio during his watch.  Again, his political connections paid of, he became Tom Harmon's replacement as Stark County commissioner after Harmon resigned effective December 15, 2009 (Harmon is a Stark Democratic Party appointee himself (replacing Gayle Jackson - who also is a Strickland appointee with the Ohio Lottery Commission owing probably to her close connection to former Stark County Party chairman Johnnie A. Maier, Jr.).

But when it came to running for election to the Harmon seat (which has two years left),  Meeks made a politically fatal decision in opting to run for the four year term being vacated by Todd Bosley.

Now let The Report pause at this point in the conversation.  Yours truly had a conversation with a Stark County Democratic Party official this evening which challenged validity of The Report's analysis of Meeks having made a "politically fatal" decision.  The official's counter was that Janet Creighton was locked on to Meeks whichever race he choose to run in.

After thinking about the "counterpoint, of the official " The Report recalled (after the conversation had ended) Creighton saying that she never thought of running for the unexpired two year term.  She was always going to run for the four year term.  However, she did circulate and had at the ready petitions to file in either race.  The Report spoke with Creighton immediately prior to writing this blog and she confirmed yours truly's recollection on her actual plans.

While Creighton governs in a largely non-partisan way, no one should mistake her governance modality for not being politically savvy.  While she kept her "political" cards close to her chest, she obviously put the Democrats in a dither as to what they should do.  What Creighton achieved was to give the Republicans a chance to take control of the county commissioners office.  Had independent Todd Stephen not run, The Report believes that Jamie Walters would have run against Bernabei.  He would have run because while Bernabei is a powerful political figure in Canton and has pockets of strength in urban Massillon and Alliance being the Democrat he is, he does not have much of a political base out in the townships and suburbia.

Steve Meeks, had he stayed in the two year race, might actually have done better than Bernabei.  He would have done nearly as well as Bernabei in the urban areas of Stark County and may have had pockets of strength in suburbia (mostly in western Stark County and Stark County) that Bernabei did not have going for him. Bottom line, The Report believes that Bernabei would not have taken on Meeks and Stark Countians would be looking at Commissioner Steven Meeks (for two more years) and not acting Belden-Jackson Chamber of Commerce Director Steve Meeks.

As it is, all is well that ends well. The Report thinks that these times that Janet Ceighton, Tom Bernabei and Pete Ferguson are good fits for Stark County to straighten out the terrible mess of mismanagement by prior boards of commissioners.

In talking with Creighton about the mess, she reminded The Report of the effort that was put forward by herself and Bob Horowitz (Stark County prosecutor at the time) to get the 0.25 sales tax passed which expires in 2011.  The idea, she says, was to give time for county commissioners to get their fiscal house in order.

But did they do so?  Of course, not.

Then Commissioners Bosley, Harmon and Vignos got the bright idea of imposing a 0.50 sales tax in December, 2008.  This act was an absolute political catastrophe for Stark County.  While it is likely that the county will salvage a much better 9-1-1 county call receiving, dispatch and radio infrastructure as an outcropping of the imposed tax, it also provided fodder for those who say that the people cannot trust government to hear the people.  Bosley, Harmon and Vignos by imposing the tax did severe damage to the trust factor between Stark Countians and their government.

On top of this the Frustaci matter hits (imposed tax - December, 2008; revelation of a suspected Frustaci theft of taxpayer money - April, 2009).  As Commissioner-elect Creighton expresses it:  "the perfect storm."

So while former Commissioner Meeks may be having a soft landing, Stark Countians are not.

Nobody believes that Stark Countians will pass any kind of a tax in 2011:  not a renewal; not a dedicated criminal just levy.

So this leaves Commissioners Ferguson and Bernabei and Commissioner-elect Creighton with an impossible task.  They must restore public confidence in the way the county offices manage taxpayer dollars before any discussion whatsoever can begin to get Stark County revenues at reasonable levels.

Had he been elected commissioner, Jamie Walters (Republican trustee - Jackson)  was bound and determined to drive Stark County revenues down to $35 million from the 2010 level of $56 million.  As Bernabei so compellingly said in the Bernabei/Todd/Walters campaign, with a $39 million criminal justice budget, there is no way $35 million in total revenues can work without devastating cuts.

And Walters may get his wish.  But if Stark does get to a $35 million budget, there are going to be a large number of Stark Countians very, very unhappy in the huge cuts in county services that are coming.  And this is not even counting projected cuts in local government funding that the newly elected Kasich administration is projecting.

The SCPR believes that the election of November, 2010 for the commissioner turned out to the best advantage of Stark Countians.  Bernabei and Creighton have the experience and savvy to work in the context of a impossible situation.  However, it will take time to recover from "the perfect storm."

As The Report as written before, Stark County dodged a bullet in not having Jamie Walters become county commissioner.  Moreover, it was a blessing that Steve Meeks miscalculated and chose a race he could not win and thereby created space for Bernabei to step in. 

While The Report thinks that Meeks did okay as commissioner, he is no Tom Bernabei and Stark County needs the very best that the county has to offer in leadership and probably Bernabei and Creighton and, perhaps Ferguson constitute the best board of county commissioners for these times.

In the meantime, happy landing to Steve Meeks on the Belden-Jackson tarmac!

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