Wednesday, August 17, 2011


At Tuesday's commissioners' work session on a consideration of whether or not Stark County should pay a company by the name of Bid Express about $10,000 of Stark County taxpayer dollars (the first year; $5,000 annually thereafter), it came out that Stark County Board of Elections Board Member Samuel Ferruccio represents Bid Express's interests in Stark.

It is a touch amusing as to how the revelation came out.

Commissioner Pete Ferguson opened the session with principal parties Keith Bennett (Stark County Engineer), Robert Nau (executive director of Stark County Regional Planning) and an "unexpected" (at least insofar as the SCPR was concerned) guest: namely, Attorney Sam Ferruccio, Jr. who happens to be an appointee of the Stark County Democratic Party to the Stark County Board of Elections.

But it was no surprise to Commissioner Ferguson.

He told yours truly (after the meeting) that he had known about Ferruccio and his connection to Bid Express for about a year (the length of time Ferruccio says he has been associated with Bid Express).

It seems as if Commissioner Janet Creighton was, along with the SCPR, surprised with Ferruccio's presence.

She was tied up with another matter when the meeting began and so she entered the meeting about half way through.

It was through her questioning (catching up with what had already transpired) that it came out that Ferruccio was not at the meeting in his capacity as a Board of Elections official, but rather as an attorney representing Bid Express.


Otherwise, the meeting itself was mundane.

Matters like what kind of benefit can the county expect by contracting with Bid Express, how much money would Stark save, the scope of involvement on the part of Stark's political subdivisions in utilizing the bidding service and the like were discussed.

Given Ferruccio's important de facto if not de jure role in local Democratic politics and his official role as a Stark County Board of Elections board member,  the phrase "is this a 'conflict of interest' situation" rushed into the consciousness of yours truly.

Interestingly, none of the commissioners seemed similarly struck inasmuch as none brought the question up in questioning Ferruccio.

Immediately on adjournment, The Report posed  potential "conflict of interest" questions to Ferruccio himself.  Here is a video of the exchange:.

After the Ferruccio interview, The Report went to Commissioner Creighton for her reaction.  Here is a video of her response.

It was after the Creighton interview that The Report asked Commissioners Bernabei and Ferguson about the matter.

Bernabei's response (a paraphrase):  "As the session was going on, it occurred to me that there just might be a conflict of interest problem here."

Again, Bernabei did not utter a word about it during session.  Nor did Ferguson who has known about the Ferruccio/Bid Express relationship for about a year, he told the SCPR.

The SCPR thinks Stark Countians should be somewhat concerned that neither broached the question during the actual meeting.

Especially, Ferguson.

As indicated above, he has known about it for a year and did not reveal the Ferruccio/Bid Express connection all that time in a regular or work session commissioners' meeting.  One would think that he would have done so in the interest of full disclosure so that the commissioners (especially the Democrat commissioners) would not be suspected of hiding the relationship.

The SCPR thinks the commissioners with their "it's a new day" in terms of transparency need to thoroughly vet the potential conflict of interest which The Report suggests might be at play in the sense of:
  1. the commissioners agreeing to a contract with a company represented by a county official,
  2. Ferruccio participating in BOE bidding decisions (he says he would voluntarily recuse himself) and,
  3. if problems develop in implementation  down the line,  in possibly having to deal with that county official to resolve the matter.
Why is Creighton largely exempt from criticism on this matter by the SCPR?

It appears to The Report that she was genuinely surprised by the revelation.  Moreover, she is the lone Republican commissioner and therefore would have no motive to inject a political factor into her consideration of whether or not to vote for the proposed contract.

Commissioner Bernabei told The Report that the commissioners would be getting an opinion from Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero on whether or not a conflict of interest exists.

The SCPR asks:  Is Ferrero the appropriate person to go to?

Well, why might Ferrero not be the appropriate official to go to for an opinion?

Because Ferruccio is on the Stark County Board of Elections (BOE) under the following scenario:

Several years ago, the then Stark County Democratic Party chairman Johnnie A. Maier,, Jr. obtained the "acquiescence?" of 13-year BOE member Billy Sherer (a strong, strong unionist from the Ironworkers) into stepping down so that the Dems could appoint a lawyer (Sam Ferruccio); in accordance with - said Maier - the wishes of then Democratic secretary of state Jennifer Brunner to have a Democrat lawyer on each and every county BOE.  Brunner denied Maier's claim at the time.

The SCPR believes that Ferrero (being a key Stark County Democratic Party player)  must have been a part of the Sherer to Ferruccio shift.  At the very least from the standpoint of a former chairman (Ferrero, who immediately preceded Maier) supporting the wishes of then current chairman.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that Maier served along side of Ferruccio for a number of years on the BOE until he (Maier) had to switch out because he is running for re-election for Massillon clerk of courts.  Maier was replaced by Phil Giavasis (who is Canton clerk of courts).  Before this "switcheroo" it was Giavasis' chief deputy Randy Gonzalez who was on the BOE until he was running for re-election as Jackson's fiscal officer.

So Stark County apparently has not a union seat on the BOE, but rather a "clerk of courts" position.  Interesting, no?

Though the Bid Express deal looks like a good deal for Stark County, with the revelation of a politically connected person representing Bid Express, the SCPR is not ready to endorse the Bid Express proposal.

The proposed deal seems to sell itself and there appears to be no reason why a political factor would be injected into the decision making process.  That Bid Express has retained Ferruccio might well be happenstance and have nothing at all to do with his being a prominence in Stark County politics and government.

And the SCPR assumes no such factor is at play.

However, it is incumbent on the commissioners to reassure the Stark County public that such is the situation in reality.

Stark County Commissioner Pete Ferguson needs to explain in a commissioners meeting how it is that he has known about the Ferruccio/Bid Express relationship for an year and yet had not brought the matter out into the public domain until today so far as the SCPR knows.

Stark County's citizens and taxpayers have a right to know and the commissioners have an obligation of "due diligence" to determine and to communicate that political connections or political official status and concomitant access that such can bring have nothing at all to do with them agreeing to doing business with Bid Express.

In Stark County's annals of local government, there has never been a more important time for commissioners to conduct the business of local government on merit and merit alone.

If they decide to go with the Bid Express deal and it ends up perceived by the Stark County public as having insider aspects to it, then - if any chance of passage remains -  they can kiss their 1/2% sales tax initiative goodbye!

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