Thursday, August 4, 2011


Yesterday the Stark County commissioners voted to place a 1/2 cent sales/use tax increase issue on the November 8th ballot.

The SCPR was there to record the entire event.

It appears to The Report that a new trend in placing sales tax initiatives before Stark County voters may be emerging.

What may the trend be?

Earmarking.  Yes, earmarking; the revenues produced by a given levy for a specific purpose.

If the November 8th measure passes, it is to be used exclusively for criminal justice and ancillary administration.

What might be next over the next half a dozen or so years?  A drainage ditch/flooding issue?  An economic development issue?

Asked yesterday by yours truly whether or not earmarking/designation was an emerging trend, Commissioner Bernabei responded that such is not the case as he sees it.

For the SCPR, it should be.

The SCPR advocates that commissioners consider establishing a pattern of committing future revenue measures for specific purposes.


So that the Stark County public can measure the success/failure of the tax increase in light of and in terms of the monies provided to, as is the case of the upcoming vote - if it passes, criminal justice. In a word:  earmarking leads to - accountability.

Moreover, it has the potential to lead to a commissioner/citizen dialogue in the way of building a countywide consensus what the county's priorities ought to be.

Todd Bosley, when he was commissioner, determined that Stark Countians had a rebuilt 9-1-1 emergency call receiving/dispatch as a top priority.

As it turned out, it was Bosley's priority; not the vast majority of Stark Countians.

As part of his plan to get the financial wherewithal to fund the rework, he unwisely convinced fellow commissioners Harmon and Vignos to "impose" a tax which not only went to rehab 9-1-1, but also to put millions in the county general fund.

Obviously, the primary problem with Bosley's "stroke of genius" was the "imposing" of the tax.

In his own mind, Bosley had the "failsafe" plan of getting all political subdivision employees (of Stark's cities, villages and townships) solidly behind the campaign because the were going to get "free" call receiving/dispatching services and thereby sell the imposed tax to Stark Countians.

A clear flaw in Bosley's failsafe plan?  A no doubter - imposing the tax!

But there was another flaw, if the first one was not enough to get the imposed tax repealed.  It was the public perception that the commissioners (Bosley, Harmon and Vignos) were sneaking a county general fund through under the cover of 9-1-1.

Consequently, the imposed tax was recalled by voters in November 2009 by a 2/3rds majority.  

In the end, the Bosley maneuver falls into the category of "the best laid plans of mice and men."

There continues, moreover, to be one more very important consequence of the Bosley-led effort.  It may have, when coupled with the failure of the management (Treasurer Zeigler - ref:  state of Ohio Auditor's Report) to have measures in place to have prevented the theft of county funds (Frustaci), been a contributory cause of the Stark Countians being merely skeptical of county government to become "cynical" of county officeholders.

We will know for sure whether or not Stark Countians have become cynicists with the results of the November 8th vote.  Commissioners have established the need for the increase in the judgment of the SCPR.  But will Stark Countians trust them enough to agree that they and Stark County governmental department heads get more money to operate with.

The Stark County Political Report believes that the commissioners have lifted the credibility of the commissioners by implementing new processes of transparency, accessibility and accountability.

A few examples:

Though they were met by what Commissioner Creighton labels public apathy in large doses in their February (starting with Plain Township) through June (ending with Marlboro Township) series of community meetings, it was heartening to hear Commissioner Bernabei say yesterday that the community meetings would continue.

Commissioner Creighton answers her own phone at the commissioners office.

All three face up to critical questioning.  Their meeting in Perry Township was particularly hostile inasmuch as many Perry residents had experienced flooding in the days leading up to the Perry sited community meeting.  But the SCPR have seen the commissioners respond in many venues and have not seen them refuse to respond to a question:  friend or foe.  Creighton especially impressed in Jackson where she was faced with a belligerent series of questions from a particularly hostile citizen.

Commissioners have been quick to respond to The Report's public records requests.

Notwithstanding the public interface improvements made by commissioners, they have only been in place a little over seven months.  So it is likely that Stark Countians want to see more of the same over a sustained and enduring period of time.  November will be some measure of the effect of the "new" look of the Stark County commissioners on the voting public.

Restoring public trust is the commissioners' Job #1!

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