Thursday, April 17, 2014


UPDATE:  9:20 AM







It is "inspiring" to see a Stark County Board of Commissioners is not "knee jerk!"

The leading "inspirational" leader of Stark County government is Commissioner Janet Creighton.

Here she is "at her finest" yesterday in responding to media questions about actions that commissioners took with respect to the Probate Court, the Family Court, the sheriff's department and the Veterans Service Commission (all of which are, more or less, topics of this blog).

Yesterday, at their regular Wednesday meeting,  the commissioners had to field three actual, a fourth insinuated and a fifth implied 2014 Stark County Budgetary challenge.

About one month ago (March 20th) the commissioner passed a $60.9 2014 budget.

It was not anytime at all before they got challenged as they endeavored in formulating the budget to put the projected out numbers on a trend line which make budgets going out through 2019 "sustainable."

When was the last time anybody heard the word "sustainable" emanating from the Stark County Office Building?

While the SCPR thinks the commissioners have a ways to go to achieve perfection, the important thing is that they are trying.


However, the "elephant in the room" the SCPR thinks is Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee appointed sheriff George T. Maier.  Earlier this week, news broke out on The Report that the sheriff is on a "cosmetic-esque" spending spree.

A major item reported by two SCPR sources is Maier's replacement of plain vanilla but highly serviceable BLACK gun belts with jazzed up BASKET WEAVE design (a la the Ohio State Highway Patrol [Maier's former longtime employer]) at a cost of $50,000.

The Report had a discussion with a county official who made the point that "splash and dash" stuff like the decorated gun belts impresses the general public and in a superficial sort of way provides adds credibility to Stark County's countywide cops.

Well, tell that to the residents of Lake Township's unincorporated area (only serviced by the Stark County sheriff) who have to wait hours sometimes to get a sheriff's patrol car to the scene of a crime.

Part of the problem in managing Maier for the commissioners, the SCPR thinks, is that the 1/2 percent sales tax increase passed in November, 2011 has been tabbed Justice System Sales Tax (JSST).

It raises some $22 million annually.  But can be even greater than that.  For instance, the SCPR was told yesterday that collections for 2014 are up this year.  If it turns out that there is a significant increase in revenues this year, there likely (in The Report's assessment) will be addition pressures brought to bear on commissioners to readjust departmental budgets upwards.

In particular, such a development could make the prime recipients of the tax revenues (the courts, the prosecutor's office and the sheriff's department) think its "Katy Bar the Door Time" in rushing out to spend "all that 'new' money."

The only barrier to that happening (in the face of many, many unmet needs on non-justice system aspects of the budget) is guess who?

You've got it!  The Stark County Board of Commissioners.

As the SCPR has written, it seems that the commissioners are doing an "inspiring" job of managing the budget EXCEPT for Maier who seems to do whatever "he damn well pleases" with nary a protest from the commissioners.

The Report may have seen a glimmer of hope yesterday that maybe, just maybe the commissioners might be about to exert a little more control over the leader of 4500 Atlantic Boulevard.

 How's that?

Yesterday, when he was in to see the commissioners as they were about to approve a newly negotiated contract with the Stark County Deputies Association (i.e. the deputies union).  In coming days, the SCPR will be doing an incisive dedicated "blog" analysis of that contract, one of the commissioners by implication asked how he was doing in getting the bed count up to its maximum 501 holding capacity.

Earlier this week the SCPR was told that the bed count was at 417.  The number or thereeabouts where it has been for the last year or so while Maier has been sheriff.  Remember, the JSST passed in November, 2011 and collections started coming in during July, 2012.

Maier gave a vague "we are just completing training classes" sort of answer.

Whereupon Commissioner Thomas Bernabei (Maier's biggest fan on the board) suggested that he needed to schedule a "work session" with the commissioners so that they could go into greater detail on the bed count matter.

Others may give Maier a pass, but as he surely knows the Stark County Political Report will not.

The Report has never been and will never be blinded by those Stark County village, city, township and county officials who use a "smoke and mirror" approach to managing their respective offices.


A member of the audience was Stark County treasurer Alex Zumbar.

You could tell that his presence bugged Commissioner Bernabei  just by the banter that occurred between the two as we coursed through the meeting.

The Report believes that little vignette had to do with a recent Stark County Budget article written by Alliance Review veteran reporter Laurie Huffman on the differences between Zumbar and Stark County Probate Court judge Dixie Park on Stark County Budget Director  Chris Nichols numbers in arriving at recommended appropriations for Zumbar's and Park's respective offices for 2014.

Zumbar's office has been the only Stark County department of government to receive an "A" rating from the SCPR in The Report on going series in rating how well county departments are doing in their stewardship of Stark County taxpayer money.

But The Report will say that his and Judge Park's protestations amount to little more than whining.

However, there is something in the Huffman article that should catch the commissioners' attention.

What's that?

The reference as follows:
Other departments that showed close to a 15 percent or higher disparity included the sheriff's office, at 21 percent; the prosecutor's office, at 17.6 percent; the coroner's office, at 17.1 percent; and the clerk of courts, at 14 percent.
Why is the SCPR focuing on this aforementioned language?

Because it seems to reek of non JSST departments of government noting how they may be treated as "poor country cousins" in items budgetary and the appropriation operations of the commissioners.

The last thing the commissioners should want is for a grumbling among county departments of government to develop as a backdrop and a mine field within which to operate as they endeavor over the next four years or so (the JSST expires in 2019) to fairly parcel out inadequate general fund revenues not withstand the JSST infusion.


First, the Stark County Family Court.

Here is where The Report thinks the commissioners distinguished themselves in their handling of appeals from the board's decision on 2014 Budget-related matters.

The background of the dispute (LINK to prior blog and in graphic form):

As can be seen, the commissions on the 20th shorted the domestic relations folks by some $223,000.

Yesterday, the commissioners demonstrated that if a department of county government could make a persuasive case for itself, they were open to reversing/modifying themselves on the adoption of the budget on March 20th. 

And they did so in adding $125,000 to the Family Court budget.  As The Report sees it, there was a communication failure between court administrator Rick DeHeer and Nichols on the gist of some promotions/salary increases and that the court therefore is justified to yesterday's decision to get the extra money.

To the SCPR, such is "reasoned action" that does not violate the commissioners "standing firm" on the solid numerical analysis done by the commissioners' budget director (Chris Nichols).

While they should pay attention to any county official who complains about their budgetary decisions, they cannot afford to be seen as an easy mark for reversing themselves on credible but "not substantial enough" bases presented in justification of modification.

Next, the Veterans Service Commission.

At the commissioners April 2nd meeting, the Veterans Service Commission (VSC) was in to see the board about convincing them to approve what appeared "on-the-face-of-it" to be an excessive travel (hotel/motel) request, to wit:

The commissioners rejected the request as the SCPR thinks they should have even though the VSC did make an important case for the benefits of "networking" that could most easily be accomplished if the VSC participants were not in a back and forth (Stark County and Independence) travel mode.

The Report indicated in a April 4th blog that the VSC would be back.

And yesterday, it was.

The VSC did get creative.

The commission sent in Ben Wolf a former VSC employee who make a credible plea for the commissioners to relent on their April 2nd decision to deny the full (the motel/hotel part) $3,890 for the May 6-9 OSACVSO/VARO Spring School in Independence.

The wily Wolf opened with a nostalgic moment recollection of a 1972 connection he (Wolf) had with Commissioner Regula's father Ralph in his early years as 16th Congressional District representative (which then included all of Stark County).

If anything was going to change the commissioners thinking on the travel request it is "warm the cockles of your heart" moments like that.

Wolf also made the "networking" point among his reasons why the commissioners should reverse themselves, but to no avail.

Finally, the Probate Court matter.

In view of the decision of the commissioners to add more money to the Family Court's appropriation (i.e. the $125,000 cited above), Commissioner Bernabei in the interests of "fair play" addressed Judge Dixie Park's request for $23,680 additional for her budget for raises.

A key component in the decision may have been the fact that work in the Probate Court has dropped off considerably since 2010 while the county general fund infusion has increased over the same period of time, to wit:

Do you think maybe these numbers dictated to the commissioners that they not add more money to the Probate Court coffers?

Seems like "reasoned action" to the SCPR.


At the conclusion of the meeting, the commissioners took media questions on about the departments elaborated upon in this blog.

Here is an excerpt dealing with the Probate Court, Family Court and Veterans Service Commission matters:

All-in-all the SCPR thinks the commissioners are doing their fiduciary duty to protect Stark County taxpayers.

And when they make an exception, they are requiring compelling, reason-based justification.

Except, perhaps, for Stark County Democratic appointed sheriff George T. Maier?

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