Thursday, June 16, 2011


The members of the current Stark County Board of County Commissioners like to say that their decisions have nothing whatsoever to do with politics/political philosophies.

But the fact of the matter is that Commissioner Janet Creighton is a Republican and widely advertises that she "is proud of it!"  Commissioners Pete Ferguson and Tom Bernabei are Democrats.

Ferguson - to the SCPR - comes pretty close to being non-political.  However, it would be a mistake to say that he does not have a political side to him. 

Bernabei - The Report says - is political to a point.  He certainly is a powerful force in Canton city politics having been elected councilman and law director (as a Democrat) over span of the last 20 years or so.  In order to be successful he had to have the blessing of local Democratic Party power brokers which includes organized labor.

But Bernabei has let it be known that he is his own man and it has become common wisdom that one (i.e. politically interested persons) do not want to press him too much to let political considerations enter into his deliberations on the likely prospect that  he has and will vent on an errant lobbyist (in a generic sense of the expression) big time.   Even local Republican Party operatives believe that Bernabei is a straight shooter.

Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II found out where politics kicks out with Bernabei.  He ended up firing Bernabei as his services director and chief of staff because he was a vocal critic of some of Healy's programs, policies and processes.

One of Bernabei's political philosophical sympathies is with organized labor.  While the SCPR does not believe that Bernabei consciously factors the politics of having a good relationship with unions into his decision making, it would be naive to think that philosophical empathy does not weigh-in at least in a latent sort of way.

On the other hand, The Report believes that Commissioner Janet Creighton - while not anti-organized-labor - certainly takes a harder look at unions than either Bernabei or Ferguson.

Here is a video of Creighton expounding on Mark Kvamme (Kasich economic development czar) and the frustrations that county commissioners are experiencing in their dealings with unions:

Last week Stark Countians witnessed Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson being in lock-step in chastising the Stark County Veteran Service Commission (VSC - Robert Toth, director [he is paid about $100,000 per year]) for granting 3.5% and 5% raises to the Stark County department of government's 12 employees.  It has been a couple of years since VSC employees have had a raise.

These employees are unorganized types.  Moreover, the VSC gets its "earmarked" (0.5 of a mill of the county property tax) money funneled through the Stark County general fund.  The VSC is entitled to spend $3.5 million per year, if its board so chooses.  However, for the current fiscal year the VSC has budgeted only about $1.4 million therefore benefits the Stark County general fund about $2.0 million a year.

Yesterday, county commissioners had an executive session in which to discuss with Stark County Board of Developmental Disability (DD) officials whether or not the commissioners would approve contracts (two of them) whereby teachers, professional trainers and support staff (union employees) get a 2% raise over three years.  None of DD's money comes from the county general fund.

After the executive session, Creighton voted "no" on the contracts (2); Ferguson and Bernabei voted "yes."  Bernabei says that up to three to four days ago he was leaning towards voting "no," but that DD officials were able to convince him to change his mind.

Here is a video of the vote.  Creighton explains her "no" vote; Bernabei - his "yes" vote.

Bernabei denied to the SCPR that any affinity for or pressure from organized labor played any role in his vote. 

After the commissioners' meeting, Commissioner Bernabei expanded on his reasons for supporting the DD negotiated contract and addressed SCPR questions regarding his vote (as compared to his VSC position) sending a mixed message.  Here is the video of the extended remarks:

Last night the commissioners were at Perry Township for one of the twenty-two community designed to explain county budgetary problems and therefore the reasons why Stark Countians should support a 0.5% sales tax increase in November.  During the meeting a Perry resident has if the commissioners would promise that there would be "no pay increases" to county employees if the 0.5% increase were to be approved.

Answer:  "we can't make that promise."  Reason:  the commissioners appropriate.  They do not have the power to dictate to department heads whether or not they can give raises.

True enough.  But there is more to the story.

The commissioners divide over the VSC and the DD raises itself shows, even the commissioners disagree with one another depending upon the circumstances.

As The Report sees it, Commission Creighton has the correct take - in terms of sending a consistent message - (really the only power the commissioners have over pay raises).

Bernabei and Ferguson, however they describe their motivations, are indeed sending a "mixed message."

The SCPR believes that should the one percent sales tax be approved in November, voters should not be surprised to see other county department heads apply some of their post-sales-tax-increase appropriations to employee pay raises.

Such is a consequence of sending mixed messages!

Mixed messages or not, it appears that commissioners will be getting the enthusiastic support of the folks at Developmental Disabilities.  In the video which follows Superintendent and CEO Bill Green expresses his gratitude at the commissioners' approval action and gives his endorsement for the expected 0.5% sales tax levy that commissioners are expected to put on the November ballot.

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