Thursday, December 13, 2012


Yesterday, as yours truly opened the stairs doorway to the 2nd floor of the Stark County office building, it was a sight to behold.

Some 75 workers for Central Allied Enterprises, Inc. were milling around in the area in front of the building elevators extending down the hall towards the commissioners' office and then in the other director down towards the Stark County auditor's office.

What's up?

The SCPR as always had viewed the day's agenda and from the looks of it, the meeting seemed as if it was going to be rather pedestrian.

But as The Report has said in many SCPR blogs, one never knows what surprises awaits yours truly in the course of public meetings.  And Stark County commissioner meetings are no exception.

Before getting into the big controversy that erupted yesterday in the commissioners' meeting room, here are the "milder" surprises that happened yesterday:
  • Mike Hanke, the chief county administrator of some five years, announced he is retiring effective March 1, 2013,
  • Commissioner Pete Ferguson notified all that he is resigning effective December 31st though his official term runs through January 3, 2013, and
  • Marilyn Hoover, a key Stark County commissioners' administrative staff member who announced her retirement last month after 25 years of service will spend her last day working for the commissioners tomorrow.
  • Also, information came out that Chief Deputy Sheriff Rick Perez is retiring (a second time?) from the sheriff's department as of December 31st.
The big, big surprise, perhaps (the Hanke retirement announced was pretty surprising), was the attempt by Central Allied Enterprises, Inc. (a Stark, County company) to get commissioners to not follow the recommendation of Stark County Sanitary Sewer Engineer Jim Jones that they reject Central's "lowest bid" on the Marlboro Township Sanitary Sewer and Storm Sewer Improvement project to benefit about 90 Marlboro residents who live in the vicinity of State Route 619 and Marlboro in unincorporated Marlboro.

But the commissioners chose to follow the recommendation of Jones notwithstanding the impassioned plea of Central Allied's CEO Gerald Orn.

So what is so surprising about this turn of events?

One of the first and most emphatic points that Commissioner Creighton made when she took office on her election in November, 2010 was that she was interested in seeing to it that Stark County-based companies got county business whenever the county made purchases for products and services.  And Commissioners Bernabei (elected originally in 2010; reelected in November, 2012) and Ferguson (elected in 2008, but choosing not to seek reelection this year) were on board with her on that very point.

For a number of years the Stark County sanitary engineer's office has been working to put together a project to replace sanitary and storm sewer infrastructure in Marlboro.

So it had to be pleasing to the commissioners when the bids were opened on the Marlboro project on October 12th of this year that a Stark County company (Central Allied) was the low bidder by some $13,000.

But the law, as the SCPR understands it (LINK), is that the commissioners have some discretion within which to accept bids in that the catch phrase is not "lowest," but "lowest and best."

Well, how do they determine what is best?

Answer:  they rely on their expert on such things which in this case is Engineer Jones.

On Tuesday Jones wrote the commissioners telling them that in his judgment the $2.5 million (plus a little) contract should go to Wenger Excavation of Dalton, Wayne County, Ohio.

The project is funded by a combination of:
  • a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers administrated federal grant,
  • Community Development Block Grant funding through the Stark County Regional Planning Commission, and
  • Metropolitan Sewer District funds.
His reasons for selecting the Wayne County company over the Stark County company?
  1. Central Allied's bid ($2,547,138.20) is in its essence equal (given that we are talking slightly in excess of $2.5 million) to the Wenger bid ($2,580, 299.55),
  2. Wenger "has performed many satisfactory projects" for Stark County "over the last 30 years," according to Jones' recommendation,
  3. Central Allied, on the other hand, has had two projects in the last six years for Stark County and Jones says "that there were problems ... on both projects,"
  4. "The quality of the work was non-standard, causing delays, safety issues, added expense, excessive noise, and quality problems."
  5. Jones cites "dewatering of ground water" issues with Central Allied on the two previous project and says that dewatering may be a factor in the Marlboro project,
  6. "Central Allied Enterprises was non-responsive to the List of public projects request in the Bidder's profile section of the Bid Documents,"
  7. "Central's list did not indicate type of project or project contact person or phone number information,"
  8. One of Central's references "which included storm sewer had some negative comments to standards which may relate sanitary sewer installation" on the Marlboro project.
A main point raised by CEO Orn in his remarks to commissioners yesterday was the number of Stark County (which he estimated at 100, but which the company's legal counsel guessed to be about 80) citizens who work for Central Allied.

Here is a video record on proceedings yesterday.

Off camera, he told the SCPR that Central's failure to get the contract from Stark County could negatively impact as many as 40 Stark County jobs.

The bottom line was that the commissioners were going to follow the county engineer's recommendation and were not going to yield to the pressure of some 75 workers and company officials (including Orn) who appeared at the commissioners meeting.

From what the SCPR can gather from Jones' report, it appears that the commissioners did the right thing by Stark County's sanitary sewer customers (of which, yours truly is one) and most importantly the folks who live in Marlboro Township who will be directly benefiting from the work done.

The SCPR has covered the Stark County commissioners for all of the time that Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson have been in office.  During that time, it is The Report's clear impression that they make every effort to award county contracts to Stark County based business so long as they can ensure quality products and services.

One thing that worried The Report somewhat was the heavy reliance of the commissioners on Engineer Jones' say so.

Not so much on this particular bid, but whether or not the commissioners, in general, are biased to what a public official's stand is on any controversy that comes before them for which the commissioners are the deciders.

So The Report sat down with Commissioner Creighton and engaged a "devil's advocate" position on yours truly's concern.

Creighton in the back and forth convinced The Report that such was not the case.

She cited a recent case involving a situation in Beach City in which the public officials were contesting the citizens and the commissioners sided with the Beach City residents.

Moreover, there is a street naming issue (Brook Avenue) between affected Perry Township residents and safety officials (fire, police and emergency services) that the residents brought to the commissioners' Public Speaks forum a number of weeks ago.

Creighton, for one commissioner, assured yours truly that she was hearing the residents' concerns loud and clear and that the commissioners are working to formulate a solution that will satisfy everyone.

Her point?

She was not going to be an "automatic" for the public officials.

That is what the SCPR wanted to hear.

Bernabei and Creighton came into office at a time that Stark Countians were disgusted with a perceived lack of openness, transparency, communicativeness, accessibility and the like being handed out by a number of county officials.

The have vowed to change that perception.

The Report thinks that the commissioners have made progress, but work along this front remains.

For instance, the SCPR has not been impressed with how the commissioners have handled the Stark County Dog Pound Advisory Board (SCDPAB).

These folks in The Report's estimate have been terrific advocates for the well being of stray and abandoned dogs housed at the Stark County Dog Pound (Pound) and have volunteered thousands of hours at the Pound in the face of resistance, yours truly believes, by employees, management and, yes, even the commissioners.

Former commissioner Todd Bosley was instrumental in forming the SCDPAB.  Commissioner Creighton says that he (and his fellow commissioners at the time) had no authority for doing so.

The Report believes that members of the SCDPAB (which only has a couple of members remaining out of a total of seven; the terms of the others having expired and left unfilled by Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson) were so much of a "pain in the _ss" to folks working/running the Pound and to the commissioners themselves that the commissioners are simply letting the SCDPAB atrophy through the expiration of all terms over time and thereby put it out of existence.

The SCPR thinks that the commissioners handling of the SCDPAB matter is disrespectful of these folks and dishonoring of all the hard work they have blessed the county with over the years.

A very compelling case can be made that BUT FOR the activism of the SCDPAB members, the "in process" replacement of the Pound's HVAC system would not be happening.

However, to their discredit is the manner in which they are handling the the demise of the SCDPAB.

They should go front and center and outright disband the board.

And it wouldn't hurt to have past and the remaining few members into a commissioners meeting to honor them for their service.

While the SCPR sees a substantial improvement with this board of commissioners over previous boards, they are not perfect.

Returning to the commissioners action yesterday, it seems to the SCPR that the commissioners showed that they have spine when it comes to an influx of complaint and criticism.

There is no doubt to The Report that they want to see Stark County-based business get the county's business.

So it had to be particularly difficult for them not to award the Marlboro project to Central Allied.

Whether one agrees with the decision or not, the commissioners demonstrated in not choosing the Stark County company that they have the fortitude to do what they think is the right thing to do in terms of what Ohio law allows and in their perception of the overall interest of Stark Countians.

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