Friday, April 13, 2012


As newly elected county commissioners (November, 2010), Tom Bernabei and Janet Creighton brought sweeping changes to the accessibility, accountability, communication and transparency factors of Stark County government.

Among the sorely needed changes made by the new commissioners included the scheduling of work sessions (up to two per week on Monday and Tuesday) and seizing the initiative of going out into the community with evening session commissioner meetings designed to gain the insights of and input of everyday Stark Countians.

It so happened that the 22 or so meeting scheduled from February through June of 2011 coincided with the need of the commissioners to determine whether or not to put on a sales tax issue to cover a brewing county financial crisis and, if so, at what rate and for what term.

The "financial need" factor concerned some that the "out-into-the-community-initiative" would be abandoned if and when a sales tax consensus was reached and passed.

Lo and behold!  A consensus was reached (0.5% for eight years) and the measure passed at a surprisingly comfortable margin.

A number of factors had coalesced (mainly a 2008 commissioner imposed sales tax increase repealed in November, 2009 and Vince Frustaci's theft of Stark County taxpayer money) to put the public's confidence in county government at what may have been an "all-time-low."

So for the new commissioners to have led a turnaround in public perception within such a narrow time frame bordered on the miraculous.

But as we all know, life if not static.  This is truly a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" world these days.

Some suspected that the "born-again" commissioners found new "openness-to-the-public-religion" out of desperation borne of the financial crisis that they found themselves in on assuming office.

Post-levy passage, would the commissioners revert to "business-as-usual" a la former boards or is this board "really" different from the prior regimes?

The SCPR has been agitating the Bernabei-Creighton-Ferguson board for some time now to get "back on track" with their community meetings.

Nealy ten months have come and gone and no meetings scheduled!

Well, yesterday that changed with commissioners scheduling three meetings, to wit:
  •  April 30th at Washington Township Hall,
  •  May 14th at Plain Township Hall, and
  •  May 30th at North Canton City Hall
with the promise of more to come.

It is not enough for commissioners to merely schedule meetings.

They need to direct Chief Administrator Mike Hanke to enlist the support of and to work with the respective township trustees, North Canton city council persons and Mayor David Held to build up a group of locals who will attend meetings in their communities and to engage the commissioners in a probative and meaningful dialogue.

The 2011 round of community meetings were hastily put together and lacking total planning and organization were - for the most part - poorly attended.

In Canton, for instance, NOBODY showed up.

The "apparent" disinterest must be squared up with and remedied.

But solving this problem is not "just going to happen."

It was apparent in the levy effort that the commissioners (especially Bernabei and Creighton) can plan and organize and create a viable participation base.

They need to apply those skills towards building a representative community response when the filter out into the larger Stark County political subdivisions.

Until the commissioners demonstrate (working with local officials and community leaders) success in building more or less permanent interacting community-based groups, their "out-in-the-community" series of meetings will prove frustrating and demoralizing to them.

And, over time, the meetings will be no more.

Between now and the onset of the the 2012 round of community meetings, the SCPR will be asking the commissioners, township trustees, city councilpersons and mayors to detail their efforts in building local government interactive community groups.

What happens with this meetings will go a long way in determining whether the meetings amount to:
  • little more than a "Dog and Pony" show, OR
  • a representative and authentic dialogue between rank-and-file locals and their county commissioners
Which will it be?

Here is the video in which the commissioners set the meetings.

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