Wednesday, November 9, 2011




A little over a year ago on November 2, 2010 the Stark County voters had the wisdom to elect two highly respected former public officials as Stark County commissioners.

Stark County had just been through a gut wrenching two years.

First, Commissioners Bosley, Harmon and Vignos in December, 2008 "imposed" a 0.5% sales tax apparently to fix the county's broken 9-1-1 emergency services system.  However, also included was a portion of the proceeds going to the county general fund.

Imposing the tax for whatever reason was a problem for Stark Countians and when it dawned on voters that the tax had all the earmarks of being a backdoor move to put $11 million of the $22 million to be collected into the general revenue fund, a grassroots citizen organization (Vote No Increased Taxes - led by local civic activist Craig T. Conley) swung into action to repeal the tax.

Two-thirds of those voting in November, 2009 side with the "Vote Nos."

Moreover, the vote signaled that Stark Countians considered the imposed tax to be an act of hubris and concomitantly citizen distrust set in.

Second, on April 1, 2009, it was revealed that the then Chief Deputy Vince Frustaci of the Stark County treasurer's office had stolen an admitted $2.46 million (thought by federal Judge John Adams to have been $2.96 million) of Stark County taxpayer money.

Although then Treasurer Gary D. Zeigler was not implicated in the theft by county, state or federal law enforcement officials, many Stark Countians were not buying Zeigler's contention that he ran the treasury with the kind of oversight, policies, procedures and practices with due diligence.

From April 1st through Zeigler's resignation (in a deal brokered by the Commissioners Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson) several weeks ago, Stark Countian distrust of county government accelerated and likely peaked on June 23, 2011 when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Zeigler had been unconstitutionally removed from office by the Commissioners Bosley, Ferguson and Meeks on August 23, 2010.

While the SCPR believes that the election of Bernabei and Creighton and their hitting the ground running on an intense mission to restore trust in Stark County government were building blocks underpinning the beginnings the restoring of trust, there were bumps in the road along the way and the recent settlement with Zeigler apparently was "the key" to allow all the hard work the "new" commissioners instituted to flower quickly and make possible the impressive win of last night on Issue 29.

Along the way the commissioners:
  • oversaw the functioning of a Citizens Review Committee which audited the operations of county department of governments to identify areas for increased efficiencies,
  • established two days a week (Monday and Tuesday) to hold work sessions so that Stark Countians could transparently see their government at work in terms of the commissioners calling elected and non-elected officials before them to explain and account for their respective operations of county government,
  • initiated a series of community meetings (21 in number) beginning in February, 2011 and concluding on June 30th to go out and interact face-to-face with Stark Countians to learn from Stark's citizens what they expected of county government and what they would support financially, and
  • followed up on with inquiring citizens' (via telephone or person-to-person) each and every concern and question no matter how discomforting.
All the hard work by the commissioners seemed to be making a favorable impression on Stark Countians, however, many if not most public officials thought that commissioner proposed 0.5 sales tax for an eight year term (resolution passed in late August, 2011) had little if any chance to pass just a few short months ago.

While the Zeigler settlement may have been the catalyst for the flowering of the necessary measure of restored trust to get Issue 29 passed last night, the SCPR believes that it was the work done from November, 2010 (in the case of Bernabei) and January 1, 2011 (in the case of Creighton) joined by carryover Commissioner Pete Ferguson that was the real reason Stark Countians in effect gave the commissioners a vote of confidence.

Key players, other than the commissioners, include Stark County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Gonzalez, Republican Stark County Auditor Alan Harold and Republican Stark County Treasury Alex Zumbar.  Also to be credited are interim treasurer Jaime Allbritan (who continues to serve under Zumbar) and Democratic Party appointee Ken Koher who succeeded Allbritain until he lost to Zumbar in the 2010 election.

Allbritain began the process of making practice, facility and policy changes that the State of Ohio Auditor's office had said in a report that should have been done during Zeigler's administration.  Koher continued on with them.  and Zumbar ramped up the reform and restructuring.

On October 19th, with the Zeigler settlement in hand, the commissioners appointed Zumbar as interim treasurer.

Both Democrat commissioners (Bernabei and Ferguson) went on record on October 26th with the SCPR as endorsing that the Stark County Democratic Central Committee select Republican Zumbar to fill out the unexpired portion of Gary Zeigler's term which is to run until September 1, 2013.

Most politicians expected that the Dems would ignore the commissioners (neither of who were on the central committee).

However, under the leadership Chairman Randy Gonzalez, Stark's Democrats surprised all and did the best thing for Stark County and selected Republican Zumbar.

Two key Democrats (Schulman [Canton City Council president] and Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II were opposed to the Zumbar nomination as was Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.

Not in all the history of Ohio had such an action occurred.

So Gonzalez's leadership was bold and courageous.

And who knows, his forging ahead could ultimately cost him the party chairmanship.  For in leading the Democrats down a path that put the Stark County public good over partisan interest, it is likely - in the opinion of The Report - that the Stark treasurer's office will be lost to the Democrats for a decade, if not longer.

The Report believes that the commissioners would be the first to acknowledge that the rebuilding and the restoring of trust to Stark County government involves more than themselves and that much more work needs to be done.

Last night's 56% to 44% levy approval is evidence that Stark Countians are prepared to trust once again!

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