Wednesday, June 27, 2012


What a difference a change of Stark County commissioners can make.

Back in December, 2008 when Todd Bosley, Tom Harmon and Jane Vignos were the Stark County commissioners, they set back the public trust in and confidence in county government when they unanimously voted to "impose" a county sales tax of 0.5%.

Bosley, Harmon and Vignos were afraid to face-to-face with Stark Countians and have to justify the need for the increase.

This triumvirate tried to sell  voters on going along with the imposed tax on the pretext of doing an "urgently needed?" fix of the county's 9-1-1 emergency call/dispatch operations which had been tabbed as being broken in a 2007/2008 commissioned report.

As we know now,  the voters were not buying and overwhelmingly defeated the tax by voting to repeal it November, 2009.

The SCPR's read on the 2008 effort is that then-commissioner Todd Bosley thought he had come up with a full proof way to survive what he had to know was going to be a challenge to the imposed tax.

He led the commissioners in promising Stark's political subdivisions (townships, villages and cities) that they would get a "free" state-of-the-art upgrade of their emergency call response capabilities with the county's rehab of the broken county system.

Apparently, Bosley's thinking was that virtually all of Stark's police, fire and emergency medical services personnel would get behind the commissioners and thereby ward off a citizen-based challenge; if it came.

If such was the case as the SCPR has reason to believe that it was, then Bosley badly miscalculated.

When it came to light that not only was the imposed tax going to raise money for the 9-1-1 fix, but was also set up to raise money for the county general fund, then any chance the tax was to survive was done!

Fast forward to the Spring of 2011.

Janet Creighton (a former Canton mayor, Stark County recorder and auditor and White House official) and Tom Bernabei (a former Canton city councilman, law director and executive director of SARTA) had been elected Stark County commissioners in November, 2010.

Mission One for the new commissioners on taking office was to restore the public's confidence and trust in Stark County government.

No only did they have to deal with the smashing repeal of the Bosley, Harmon and Vignos imposed sales tax; they also had to deal with a swirl of controversy surrounding the Stark County treasurer's office.

Former Stark County Chief Deputy Treasurer Vince Frustaci had been convicted of stealing some $2.46 million (some believe it was as high as $2.96 million) of Stark County taxpayer money.

While the then-treasurer Gary Zeigler was not implicated in the theft, there was a obvious public perception that he had not implemented procedural and structural safeguards to prevent a theft of county funds.

Given the sales tax matter and the problems in the county treasury, Bernabei and Creighton had a major job on their hands in restoring the public trust.

It became apparent (a second validation) that they were on their way towards accomplishing their mission when they brokered a deal for Zeigler for resign on October 19, 2011 (LINK to prior blog).  A prior board of commissioners (Bosley, Ferguson and Meeks) had been found by the Ohio Supreme Court to have illegally (i.e. unconstitutionally) removed Zeigler from office. 

Meanwhile, Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson had to deal with the expiration of a 1/4 cent sales tax.  With the loss of this tax revenue, Stark County would be the only county in the entire State of Ohio receiving no sales tax revenues whatsoever.

It had to be difficult for them not to put a replacement sales tax issue on the ballot for the May, 2011 primary election, but their read was that county voters were still caught up in distrust of county government and that it would be futile to go forward.

In early 2011 the commissioners embarked on a series of some 20 community meetings designed to reconnect county government with Stark County's communities. 

Area media, including the Stark County Political Report, reported to the public that the commissioners' expressed intention to be that they were in the process of bringing a new accessibility, accountability, openness, community communicativeness and interaction and transparency to county government.

The response of the community was such that is fair to say that the meeting series was the first validation that the commissioners were on the right path in reconnecting.

By mid-summer, the commissioners committed to bringing a 0.5% sales tax issue to the Stark County public for the November, 2011 election after having made deep cuts to the county budget.

The commissioners discipline paid off and county voters provided a comfortable margin in passing the issue which, of course, was a convincing confirming validation that the commissioners were making mostly correct judgments in interacting with the Stark County public.

In deciding yesterday at a county commissioners work session not to place a renewal of a 1/10th of a mill property tax issue dedicated to the Stark 9-1-1's call receiving operation on the November, 2012 ballot, the commissioners are once again showing good judgment.

November's ballot will likely have quite a number of village, township, city and board of education tax issues for Stark County voters to deal with.  The final count will not be known until August 7th (the issue filing deadline) comes and goes.

Moreover, there will be a Stark County District Library 1.7 mill property tax issue and the Stark County Parks District will have a 1 mill property tax issue on the ballot.

While the 1/10th mill levy (9-1-1 levy) is, according to Stark County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Warstler, critical to the ongoing viability of Stark's emergency call receiving operations (it raises about $500,000 annually) and it does expire at the end of 2012, it will continue to be collected upon into 2013.

Accordingly; there is time for the commissioners to put it on in May, 2013 and still maintain the needed revenues consonant with the budgeting that Warstler has done.

In deferring on the 9-1-1 levy, the commissioners likely enhance chances that Stark voters will retain the levy when it is placed on the ballot and moreover they help other Stark County Political subdivisions get their issues passed this November by reducing the list by one request.

It is a "no brainer" that commissioners defer, but previous boards of county commissioners have had "no brainers" which they could not or refused to recognize.

What a refreshing change, no?

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