Thursday, April 24, 2014








One of the most exciting agenda items at regular Stark County commissioner meetings (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Stark County Office Building) is one named "Public Speaks."

Most meetings come and go without any Stark County citizen appearing and taking advantage of this time on the agenda to let the commissioners know how they are doing.

But every once-in-a-while, a citizen does appear.  And when one does, it is usually to vent about this thing and that thing.

And some of them have "an axe to grind."

Such was the case yesterday as Veteran Service Commission (VSC) Board Member Frank Kemp, Sr. (holding the Vietnam Veterans chair on the board) took center stage to go after the commissioners on several items

Kemp's presentation began benign enough in that it seemed as if that he was merely appearing to find out whether or not he was going to get a 5% pay raise like (he says) member Robert Haas did last year when he was reappointed by the nine member Stark County Court of Common Pleas bench to a new five year term.

But things soon disintegrated into a sharp exchange between Kemp and the commissioners.

Commissioner Thomas Bernabei assured Kemp that all was well with prior raises and any concerns that Haas would have to pay the $357.61 2013 raise were unwarranted - that is - until County Administrator Brant Luther had never approved Haas' raise and that it had been given at the initiative of former Veteran Service Commissioner director Robert Toth (now retired).

Here is where things get dicey.

Kemp to Commissioner Bernabei:  "May I have another couple minutes, please?"

Bernabei:  "Yes, go ahead."

Whereupon Kemp launched an attack on the commissioners' office of the 2014 Stark County budget on the matter of additional hires in the face of the commissioners (in their role as budget appropriators) were "denying 'some' other county offices increases in their budgets."

Apparently, not wishing to get into a fuss with Kemp, Bernabei deferred on the basis of the commissioners' budget director (Chris Nichols) being out of the office on county business promised that county officials would get back to Kemp either personally or in the context of next week's commissioner meeting.

One would think Kemp would let "well, enough alone," no?

Not on your life!

That is when it became obvious that Kemp and his organization (the Veteran Service Commission, headed up by Gary Ickes) had "some fish to fry" with the commissioners over other grievances going back a number of years that the Veteran Service Commission and Kemp seemed to be fuming about.

Last week, a former VSC member (Ben Wolf) was in to see the commissioners asking that the commissioners reverse themselves on a decision "not to fund" overnight stays for board members and several VSC employees in Independence, Ohio (a Cleveland suburb) during their attendance at a mandatory training conference for VSC connected persons.

On April 2nd, the commissioners had pared the hotel/motel part of the conference expenses from the VSC request (LINK).

And beyond that the commissioners going back a number of years, the commissioners had been contending with former director Robert Toth on VSC expenditures in light of what the commissioners have suggested has been inadequate outreach to Stark's veterans by the VSC.

The commissioners quarreled with Toth over his $100,000 plus salary and the fact that the VSC office is closed from Noon to 1:00 p.m. for no apparent "good" reason.

The commissioners say no other Stark County office closes down for the noon hour.

Back to Kemp.

He made his attack specific in singling out County Administrator Brant Luther, Budget Director Chris Nichols and commissioners legal counsel David Bridenstine as being examples of excessive (in terms of the need and/or in terms of the remuneration paid) "taking care of oneself" by the commissioners on budget items.

He criticized the commissioners paying Luther nine (9) percent more (Luther currently makes $86,715.20 annually) in his hire at the rate that former county administrator Mike Hanke made on his retirement.

Kemp also chided Commissioner Creighton for not applying her 2% cap (which she known to "orate upon") to the likes of Luther.

Take a look at Kemp addressing the commissioners.

Bernabei's response.

First, the 2% does not apply to new hires, and, second, rejoinded a reference by Kemp to the commissioners' historical discontent with former director Toth's pay:  "Mr. Toth's salary was outrageous given the level of responsibilities he had."

To say the least, Commissioner Bernabei was "ticked off."

Take a look at the exchange between Kemp and the commissioners:

After the meeting the SCPR engaged the commissioners to elaborate further on their reaction to Kemp.

Moreover, here is a video of Kemp after he left the commissioners' meeting.

The SCPR does not think this matter is over.

What Kemp did was likely to have "opened a can of worms" in that the commissioners (through the county administrator and county budget director) are looking into the process by which VSC board members have gotten pay raises.

It could be that Kemp and future renewing/replacement board members will not being getting the "expected" raises.

The moral of the complete story is that when one gets into what The Report thinks was an exercise in comeuppance on the part of Kemp and by extrapolation the VSC board and administration, it could be that these VSC connected folks "may get more than the bargained for!"

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