Friday, January 23, 2015


Updated:  10:30 a.m.

Its not a "sexy and glitzy" process, but on Monday the Stark County commissioners will start the process of having Stark County Departments of government in to meet with commissioners in for work sessions as the commissioners embark on the annual budget hearings.

The graphics above are from the 2014 SCPR extensive coverage of the Stark County general funding budgeting process.

And here is a list of key blogs done by The Report for those who want an insight into what the process entails in some detail:
  1. Volume 1
  2. Volume 1a
  3. Volume 2 
  4. Volume 3 
  5. Volume 4
  6. Volume 5 
  7. Volume 6

2015 is, the SCPR thinks, a critical year for determining whether or not the commissioners have the willpower and discipline to "hold the line" on county government expenditures from the county's general fund.

What makes this year so critical in the way of the SCPR's thinking is that revenues, according to Stark County Auditor Alan Harold, at Tuesday's monthly county finances meeting had a significant uptick in revenues.

In 2014 the county appropriated some $60 million in Stark County taxpayer funds for the providing of health, safety and well-being of Stark Countians.

In Tuesday's  meeting, Harold revealed that Stark County government has collected some $3.25 million more than anticipated and consequently the county is running a cash flow surplus of some $14 million.

The SCPR is somewhat concerned about and skeptical of the commissioners being able to administer fiscal self-discipline to themselves and to other Stark County departments of government in light of what they have done in the past; especially with the Stark County commissioners administrative operations.

They have added quite three of new positions and in the case of the chief county administrator dramatically increased the pay scale since the full implementation of the November, 2011 passage by Stark Countians of a 1/2 percent sales tax increase.

The cost of the new positions and dramatic increase?

How about $209,464.202!

A 54% increase in a little over two years.

Absolutely, breath taking, for the managers of Stark County's general fund budget to themselves go on a spending binge, no?

Not including the dramatically higher pay for Brant Luther, the commissioners have doled out more than 4% in raises to continuing employee positions over the 12/2012 through 01/2015 time period.

On the constructive side of things, the commissioners have provided a structure of county finances which, if properly employed, has the potential to channel the county revenues/expenditures overall balance into being a reality-based and therefore sustainable model.

Under former Stark County boards of commissioners (those including folks other than Thomas Bernabei, Janet Creighton, Richard Regula and to a lesser extent Pete Ferguson), Stark County's fiscal structure and processes were an absolute joke.

Worse yet, the failure of prior boards to thoroughly vet and monitor what county departments were doing with your (meaning hardworking, everyday citizens) hard earned taxpayer dollars, the SCPR thinks, led to a certain arrogance among county officials.

One example of the arrogance came from Stark County prosecutor John Ferrero (thinking his office to be short-handed because of budget cuts) threatened (the SCPR believes) the commissioners in 2012 with the prospect that he might ask Stark County judges to start appointing private sector attorneys to handle cases as an "in-your-face," "I will go behind your back" move designed to intimidate the commissioners into giving in to his budget appropriation demands.

Had he followed up on what The Reports takes as being a bullying bluff, it could have cost other Stark County departments of government many thousands of dollars in at the time highly scarce revenues to run the basic services that Stark Countians have come to depend upon.

Ferrero has a history of trying to bully those (including the SCPR) who disagree with his actions or imposing the priority of his office needs over all other Stark County department of governments.

So it was intriguing (and pleasing) to the SCPR when he became the primary focus of a "bull against bull" match up with the-then Stark County Democratic Party sheriff appointee George T. Maier.

The SCPR in prior blogs has described Ferrero as being courageous in taking on taking on the Maier brothers and The Report still thinks that though his motive may well have been tainted, courageous was to proper word to have used.

Ferrero did have the distinct advantage of the law Ohio being on his side.

The SCPR suspects that his motive was not so much his devotion to the rule of law as it was a comeuppance on his part against Johnnie A. Maier, Jr., whom he preceded as Stark County Democratic Party chairman.

Both are Massillon based and have fought each other (and you can through former mayor Frank Cicchinelli in to the mix insofar as Maier is concerned) in a political turf war in the highly charged political battleground of Massillon.

In the end, Maier proved to be a more effective bull than Ferrero.

However, Stark County would be better off, in the opinion of the SCPR, if neither one were a county officeholder.

He isn't complaining to the SCPR, but Stark County budget director Chris Nichols has to deal with the Ferreros, Maiers and others of their ilk (e.g. Stark County recorder Rick Campbell) in recommending to the commissioners which county departments should be financed out of the county general fund and at what level.

Though the SCPR believes to this day that Nichols and Luther (Stark County's chief administrator) got their jobs (both well connected Republicans, Luther more than Nichols), at least in part due to political connections (again, especially Luther who once worked for Creighton when she was Stark County auditor) to Commissioner Janet Creighton; both have turned out to be exemplary employees.

Creighton denies that political connectedness had anything to do with Luther and Nichols being hired.

Moreover, she makes no apologies whatsoever in pressing for the hiring of persons she feels comfortable with.

To which, the SCPR responds:  "Fine and dandy if you own or are managing a private company. But not when you are financing employment with taxpayer dollars."

Think maybe it might be good for taxpayers to have those employed in public positions to be loyal in terms of working smoothly with their bosses, but separated from personal or political ties that make it difficult if not impossible to take exception (even in private) to the boss?

The Nichols process of employment was particularly troublesome to the SCPR because the commissioners failed to advertise the budget director position to the general public.

The commissioners appeared to have relied on their overall impression of Nichols from his "for the chief administrator postion" interview and his resume (and, perhaps, his political connectedness) in short-circuiting the budget director hiring process.

In hindsight, it is hard to imagine that the commissioners could have done better than hiring Nichols.

But it is taxpayers dollars that the commissioners are dealing with and the general public is entitled to have an opportunity to apply for taxpayer funded jobs, and it is in the interest of county taxpayers for the commissioners to have made double-sure that Nichols was without a doubt the person to hire by having had an open process.

To the degree that there are warranted suspicions that politics trump something like a totally "open to the general public" hiring process, the SCPR thinks the public is correct to take on a distrustful of government attitude towards those who participate in the short circuiting.

Accordingly, The Report does not want to hear the actors complain about the skepticism, distrust and sometimes cynicism that the public seems to be taking on to a increasing degree vis-a-vis government at all levels including the local level.

These government official perpetrators themselves provide fertile soil for negativity toward government to take root and flourish.

Notwithstanding SCPR misgivings about the process employed in hiring Luther and Nichols, yours truly thinks that this board of commissioners is a vast improvement over boards of let's say going back some 30 years; there is no such thing as a perfect public official and that it is up to everyday citizens participating in the government process (e.g. the county budget hearings) to keep them on "the straight and narrow."

The SCPR relishes the role that The Report, among Stark County media, has pretty much singularly taken on as being a primary scrutinizer of "all things Stark County political subdivision government."

But due to the limitations to being one person who tries to cover all of Stark County, The Report undoubtedly only uncovers a small fraction of unaccountable, inefficient, nontransparent, and uncommunicative Stark County political subdivision officialdom.

If Stark County is to eventually become a model of local government in terms of being reasonably accountable, efficient with our hard earned taxpayer dollars, transparent on the processes of governance and being accessible to and communicative with everyday Stark Countians, it will certainly take more monitors than The Stark County Political Report.

As this blog began, the county budget process is not "sexy or glitzy" but with the vast improvements the current board of county commissioners have made on the  transparency-in-government factor alone; everyday citizens and certainly the few community activists that dot the county have in sitting in on the upcoming budget hearings and thereby joining the SCPR effort to let government officials that they are being watched.

Any citizen and activist who would join in on monitoring the budget hearing process should read the blogs that the SCPR did on last year's process.

Here are the links to those blogs.

And here is Thursday's schedule of hearings.

Unfortunately, due to a personal healthcare situation, the SCPR will not be able to attend Monday's hearing.

The question is who will step into the breach and be "the eyes and ears" for all of Stark County's taxpayers as the hearings unfold?

Here is the entire schedule of budget hearings.  Please note that Coroner and the Obligations section of the Commissioners offices have yet to be scheduled.

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