Wednesday, September 4, 2013




It was not all that long ago that Stark County government was in crisis.

But it is amazing what a new set of commissioners can do in a relatively short period of time to restore the electorate's confidence and, to boot,  get a sorely needed tax issue passed.

Only 8 votes shy of a 14,000 vote victory.  Quite impressive, no?

As the SCPR sees it, the commissioner handiwork was largely that of Democrat Thomas Bernabei and Republican Janet Creighton.

Most of us have an experience of government that strongly suggests that once a political victory like the levy effort is fought and won, it will not be long for a reversion process takes hold that presages a march back to the conditions that precipitated the crisis in the first place.

It appears to The Report that Commissioner Bernabei is the "guardian-in-chief" of the Stark County treasurer.

In a lighter moment in the August 28th meeting, Bernabei in a kidding but in a pointedly way chided Commissioner Richard Regula (Republican elected in November, 2012; but previously served as commissioner from 2003 - 2006) about his tendency to promise any and everything to commissioner constituents when he is beseeched to fix this or that problem.

Watch this exchange.

Insofar as the SCPR can determine, the reversion phenomenon described above appears not to have taken hold in the instance of the 2011 levy passing.

However, there are pressures being brought to bear.

Chief of the pressurers are Stark County prosecutor John Ferrero and Stark County recorder Rick Campbell.

Ferrero, in particular, in the view of the SCPR, wants to resume his "king of the hill"  take on himself insofar as Stark County politics and government are concerned.

The county's financial crisis of 2010 through early 2012 had the effect of rolling back much of his public sector financial resources avaraciousness.

He appears to The Report to be an empire builder who has to be the biggest, the baddest and the most belligerent (in underlying attitude) politician/administrator in all of the county.   Yours truly would rank him right up there with Canton mayor William J. Healy, II in this regard.  It would be interesting to see the fireworks erupt should their paths ever cross in a competitive context.

A former Stark County Democratic Party chairman;  he has never, in the opinion of yours truly, divorced politics (in all its forms) from the administration of his office.

One of the forms of his political activities is the infighting which the SCPR believes he engages as he seeks to get more than his fair share of county resources in support of his aggrandizement of office.

So politicized (as a seeming primary "way-of-life") is John Ferrero that he is "knee deep" in the politics of Massillon, his hometown.  Tiger-town is the place where he "cut his 'political' teeth."

One has to wonder if there is anything much more to Ferrero than being political.

It is against this background (the Ferreros of Stark County) that the SCPR has concerns as to whether or not the commissioners can "hold the line" in keeping Stark County fiscally responsible.

The Report felt former administrator Mike Hanke (with the support of Commissioners Bernabei and Creighton) proved to be up to the task.

It remains to be seen whether or not Hanke successor Brant Luther - himself a relatively new hire - can keep the likes of Ferrero "at bay"

At last Wednesday's commissioners' meeting, new Stark County hire Chris Nichols, as director of management and budget (June 19th), appeared before the commissioners and presented what he termed as Civics 101 on the Stark County budgeting process.

It has never been clear to yours truly (notwithstanding having covered the commissioners meetings since 2008)  as to how - exactly - the Stark County budget process works.

Some people have the gift of making things - as Richard Nixon liked to say - "perfectly clear."

And Nichols did precisely that in last Wednesday's meeting.

He graphed out a time line of the process and in doing so showed how forthright the county's budget procedures are.

First, in late summer (which is occurring right now for the 2014 budges), the departments of Stark County government submit requests to the commissioners for 2014 appropriations,

(Source:  Chris Nichols)

Second, in the early fall the requests go through a three-stage filtering process:
  • Review by The Stark County Budget Commission:
    • the county treasurer, (Republican Alex Zumbar),
    • the county auditor, (Republican Alan Harold), and
    • the county prosecutor, (Democrat John Ferrero) *
      •  "certifies the full amount of existing tax rates and millage are needed to meet the  estimated financial needs of" Stark County government,
        • * NOTE:  In a large part of the county fiscal crisis days the Stark County Budget Commission was made up of Democrat Gary Zeigler, Democrat Kim Perez and Ferrero).  Hmm?
  • Formal Budget Process within Stark County departments of government begins (e.g. auditor's office, treasurer's office, prosecutor's office, recorder's office et cetera),
    • departmental needs (first identified in Step 1) are refined to be in greater detail and resubmitted to the Stark County commissioners,
  • Certificate of Estimated Resources provided by the Stark County auditor's office,
    • Shows the actual amount of revenue that the Stark County Budget Commission (and the Stark County commissioners) have to work with in meeting requests for appropriations,

Third, in December of each year:
  • Stark County commissioners hold "budget hearings" for each and every Stark County department of government,
    • at these hearing the departments provide more details (see Step 1 and Step 2) of their needs and justification for their requests,
    • at these hearings the commissioners question and probe department presenting personnel (usually the department head (e.g. Stark County recorder Rick Campbell) on the particulars of their requests,

All of the foregoing steps coalesce into a timeline which in toto has this look:

And here are the numbers running from 2010 through 2014 projections.

For 2013, the Stark County commissioners did not adopt a final budget until March 20th.

It will be interesting to see whether or not with Nichols on board they will do better with the 2014 budget timeline.

Before Bernabei and Creighton the budgeting process (particularly, the actual holding of "open-to-the-public-scrutiny" hearings was "a hit and miss" proposition.

Now it is mandatory that elected and unelected county officials who get county general fund money in any amount be openly accountable to the Stark County public.

It is quite a treat to see the likes of John Ferrero in with seeming "hat in hand." The word "seeming" is the operative word for yours truly would wager that Ferrero doesn't seem himself in that vein by any stretch of the imagination.

The transparency of the county budgeting process is a good thing.  

A Stark County Political Report "Hats Off" to the commissioners for continuing their longstanding and abiding efforts to be accountable, transparent, communicative and open.

While The Report thinks that the commissioners are generally trustworthy to "hold the fort" against those who would take us back to the days of fiscal irresponsibility, the key is the Ronald Reagan expression:  "Trust but verify!"

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