Thursday, March 26, 2015


On Monday, The Stark County Political Report started a new feature:  Stark County Top 10 Leaders.

On a quarterly basis, The Report plans on ranking Stark County's political subdivision (villages, cities, township and boards of education) leadership in terms of the "Top 10."

See previous blogs in this series for the particulars of how the quarterly "Top 10" blogs will be constituted, revised and what the timetable is for publication.  (reference:  the Tom Bernabei blog)

And, of course, to see the SCPR's presentations on:
  • Stark County's #1 leader; namely, Stark County Commissioner Thomas M. Bernabei, and
  • Stark County's #2 leader; namely, Massillon Councilwoman Nancy Halter,
  • Stark County's #3 leader; namely, Canton Councilman Edmond Mack,
Today's blog is on Stark County Auditor Alan Harold.
Alan was raised in Louisville and had public service as a calling from an early age.  
After a career in banking and in small business, he was elected to office in November of 2010.  
SCPR Note:  Among Harold's private sector endeavors, he was employed by:
  • Huntington Bank, and 
  • Coon Restoration and Sealants, Inc. as its CFO
Alan is an active member of many community organizations, including United Way, Buckeye Council – Boy Scouts of America, and St. Michael’s Catholic Church.
He has participated in the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Stark County (23rd Class) and Government Academy (2nd Class). 
Alan has a Master of Business Administration degree from The Ohio State University (2003); a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Union College (1998); and is a graduate of Louisville High School (1994). 
He and his wife, Dr. Suzanne Harold, live with their two children, Caroline and Andrew, in Avondale.
SOURCE:  Stark Auditor's Website

Harold has long been a favorite of The Stark County Political Report who may in time rise to the very top of The Report's quarterly published Top 10 List of the best Stark County Political Subdivision elected officials.

To do so, he will have to pass a number of tests that will come his way in ensuing months/years in the context of his being Stark County's auditor.

Back in 2011, Alan was among one of five Stark County-based elected officials that The Report singled out in this blog's annual Thanksgiving Day blog as person for Stark Countinans to be thankful for with respect to the year of being recognized.

The span of April 1, 2009 through October 31, 2011 was an excruciatingly difficult time for Stark County as will be apparent to the reader of this blog in the material that follows.

Alan Harold was among several newly arrived elected Stark County officials (November, 2010) that "saved the day for this 212 year old county.

This is what yours truly had to say about Harold back in 2011:
The SCPR views Stark County Auditor Alan Harold as a Republican enthusiast.

But that is okay.

Beyond that, The Report is convinced that Harold is determined to do the right thing for Stark Countians who use the services of the auditor's office.
Harold was one of the more indignant Stark Countians (both as a candidate for auditor and as an elected official) at the what he has described as the failure of former Stark County Treasurer to implement adequate structural, policy, practice and procedural reforms while Zeigler was office (1999 - 2011) to have prevented Vince Frustaci from stealing Stark County taxpayer money. 
Harold showed spunk and courage in standing fast in the face of Zeigler being restored to office on June 23rd of this year in withholding Zeigler's pay and his use of county provided equipment (i.e. telephones and computer) in the face of Zeigler not being able to obtain bonding that is statutorily required by Ohio before one can serve as a county treasurer in Ohio. 
It could be that Harold's steadfastness was instrumental in Zeigler being willing to negotiate with county officials regarding his eventual retirement/resignation from office on October 19, 2011.
Another impressive thing about Harold was his persistence in running for office.
In 2008 he endeavored to run against Zeigler.  Harold has told The Report that he was all set to run when word came down from his then employer that if he persisted in running it would cost him his job. 
Having a family to support, Harold had no choice but withdraw.   
However, he came back as a candidate for the Stark County Educational Service Board in 2009.  While he lost that race, once the Frustaci revelation took place he found a seized an opportunity to run for county auditor. 
Rightly or wrongly, it appears that the Stark County voting public felt that the then Auditor Kim Perez (a Democrat), which many Stark Countians perceived to have close political ties with Zeigler, did not act decisively enough when he had questions about the accuracy of data coming from the Stark treasury to the auditor's office and turned to Harold by electing him to replace Perez. 
The stamina of Alan Harold is a quality to be admired and the SCPR believes the Stark County public should be pleased that Alan Harold is now serving as their auditor.
The SCPR thinks that he continues to distinguish himself as auditor, but like the well thought of (by the SCPR) Stark County Commissioner Thomas Bernabei, he is not perfect.

It may appear in spots that The Report is counter-arguing support for the notion that Harold deserves to be #4 on The Top 10 List.

Never mind, such is simply the style of yours truly.

As stated above, Harold being much younger does have the potential to topple Bernabei from the top of The Top 10 List.

However, there is also the potential to completely fall off the list.

Quite a number of Stark County elected officials treat their offices as if they were running a private corporation and are apt not afford the general public the opportunity to apply for taxpayer paid for positions that come open.

Such is not okay with the SCPR.

If the person these officials prefer to hire uncompetitively is so great, he/she will certainly be able to withstand the challenge of a competitor, no?

And maybe just maybe the hiring official, when faced with a competitor who has skills and attributes that clearly trump the preferred "insider," in the context of the public interest - if they care at all about the public interest rather than their personal comfort personal interest - may have to step away from the familiar and personally comfortable and hire the person who has more to offer to taxpaying public that he/she serves.

The SCPR suspects that Harold's hiring of A.R. "Chip Conde," clearly a competent and seemingly qualified person, was done to satisfy his personal comfort level and, perhaps, part of the Stark GOP reward system (i.e. "thank you 'Chip' for running for mayor of Canton in 2011") and not necessarily as case of hiring the most qualified person.

Conde is a guy the SCPR thinks well of and still believes was the far superior candidate in the 2011 Canton mayoralty race.

But as far as The Report is concerned nobody including the obviously competent and able Conde gets a free pass (i.e. apparent but not "real" competition) to a taxpayer supported job.

As Stark County elected officials know, the SCPR keeps an keen eye on this seemingly private-esque transactions.

Harold says that he did post the position that Conde was hired into and denies that Republican politics had anything to do with Conde's hire.

While Harold is not a part of the Stark GOP structural officialdom, nobody should think that he is not a de facto power within the "organized" Stark County Republican Party official family.

As the SCPR retorts in the case of every suspicion that a given GOP/Dems official hiring has a political aspect to is this:  It may be true that politics had nothing to do with it, but who is going to believe it.

Unlike The Repository, the SCPR does not single out certain officeholders for critique (a la The Rev vis-a-vis Kim Perez when he became auditor in the early 2000s).

Harold is not resting on his laurels as cited above.

He is making tremendous strides in updating his office's internal practices and procedures and the county's information technology infrastructure.

And he and his staff have done some admirable "in the interest of Stark County taxpayer" work.

Here is a blog link to blogs wherein yours truly details some of the auditor's office work in this regard under Harold's leadership.

However, there has been a curious development in development on this matter.

For tax year 2012, Auditor Harold's office appraised the Huntington Bank and associated  property at $8.9 million based in the actual purchase price by Amerimar and the appraisal was affirmed by the Auditor's office Board of Revision.

The buyer objected and filed an appeal with Stark County Court of Common Pleas.  Judge John Haas heard the case and decided that the $8.9 million appraisal was the correct number in the light of Ohio law that seems to stand for the proposition that the sale price is the best evidence of value for real property tax appraisal purposes.

That case has been appealed to the 5th District Court of Appeals and is pending.

Then something "very" strange (in the opinion of the SCPR) happened.

For tax year 2013, Harold's office dropped the appraisal to some $4.5 million.

A huge difference, no?

Of course Amerimar had to be happy.  However, the Canton City Schools was not.

But Harold's tax year 2013 $4.5 million appraisal action (attributing the re-evaluation which is not directly done by Harold to him for purposes of this blog) was short-lived.

The Stark County Board of Revision ( BOR, LINK to Ohio statutory basis, which interesting enough Harold was a member of) overrode the $4.5 million and once again set the appraisal at $8.9 million.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that in the tax year 2013 BOR decision, as mentioned above, Harold joined Stark County treasurer Alex Zumbar and Stark County commissioner Richard Regula in reversing the $4.5 million appraisal.

Weird, no?

Amerimar Canton Office, LLC (Amerimar) once again appealed to the Stark County Court of Common Pleas (Judge Kristin Farmer) and the case is stayed pending the 5th District Court Appeals decision on the 2012 appraisal.

The focus of the SCPR on this series of events (specifically, Harold precipitous drop in appraisal value from $8.9 [2012] million to $4.5 million [2013]) is: Why?  And then why vote to override?

The Report did a quick reading of the transcript of the 2013 appraisal BOR hearing and does not see a Harold explanation as to why the $4.5 was made in the first place.

An explanation may be in there some where.

However, the transcript of the BOR proceedings is 61 pages long and the SCPR did not spot an explanation.

A month or so ago, the SCPR was at a Canton City Council work session and was interested to note that Deputy Mayor Fonda Williams was seemingly aghast at the 2012 Huntington Bank real property tax appraisal being at the sale/purchase price of $8.9 million.

He said that the 2012 appraisal caused rents at Huntington to skyrocket (the SCPR's term, not necessarily Williams, but it may have been).

The reason that the Huntington Bank matter came up with Canton has to do with the issue of what the tax appraisal will be for the Onesto Lofts project of former Harold employer (i.e. as CFO) Coons Restoration and Sealants, Inc.

Coon's company bought the Onesto for a little over $100,000 in about 2007/2008.

Well, with the restoration being nearly complete, and an appraisal (Coon's appraiser) indicated the property is now worth some $10.8 million, the the SCPR's suspicion is now that the tax man cometh all of a sudden there may well be a challenge to the $10.8 million figure.

If not now, perhaps a few years down the road.  

For Canton's council has granted Coon's company a 75% Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) credit, which of course is "real money," to use in finishing up the Onesto.

But the TIF "only(?)" last for ten years and once Coon's company gets the 75% of $10.8 million may it will not be so keen on paying taxes on that amount if not more after the TIF expires?

Sort of like Amerimar are we going to see Coon's company do a nuance of the Amerimar approach, to wit:  Buy the property low, get a high appraisal for TIF purposes, then during the 10 year TIF period or at the end there ask for a auditor's office tax valuation much lower?

How sweet!  No?

The SCPR has bought into the criticism of Councilman Frank Morris (Ward 9 and Majority Leader) that Canton council's action is a give-away of huge numbers of Stark County political subdivision dollars (the 75% factor) for a project that was highly likely to be completed without the TIF.

The Report's concern is that given his prior employment relationship with Coon's company, Harold should recuse his office of any work whatsoever on the evaluation of the property for real property taxes purposes.

Twenty-five percent (25%) remains a revenue factor for Canton government, the Canton City Schools and other Stark County political subdivision entities such as Children Services and Mental Health.

As readers will note by the tenor of this and prior blogs, at this time Harold is esteemed in his official capacity by the SCPR.

However, should Harold not have a "within reason" acceptable explanation for the precipitous drop in the 2012 to 2013 Huntington Bank appraisal and/or should he "put his finger into the 'appraisal' pie" of the Onesto project, his #4 ranking is likely to be lost come the next quarterly SCPR Top 10 List (due July 1st).

Hopefully he will clear this apparent contradiction in position up and if he does the SCPR will published it as a supplement at the beginning of this blog.

So we shall see how this saga unfolds.

As The Report sees it, these are critical times within which to make a deeper determination of Harold's leadership qualities.

He has picked "the low hanging fruit" and has performed admirably in doing so.  However, with any elected official, it is always a case of "what have you done for me lately."

After going through the above caveats, the SCPR finds much about Harold outside the foregoing concerns to like about his auditor's  leadership.

At the county level, Harold is set to be the best and the brightest that Stark County has to offer.  Time will only tell whether or not he fulfills that billing.

One area that his office clearly deserves huge accolades on is his technology group's work to improve/restructure the county's computer network.

While in December, 2012 he hired an Information Technology Manager (Rhodebeck) at $88,005 who has not been on board long enough to evaluate; Chief Deputy Auditor Anita Henderson  ($87,149) (Note: income data from Stark County Auditor, February, 2015)  has been around the county since 2005 and has earned universal praise for her work with maintaining and upgrading county information systems technology.

Ironically, she started out with former Stark County auditor Kim Perez way back in 1987 when he was Canton's auditor.  Perez brought Henderson with him from the city when he defeated appointed Republican auditor Brant Luther in 2004.

Harold defeated Perez in November, 2012 likely as an outgrowth of his being to politically close to former Stark County treasurer Gary Zeigler.  Moreover, some think that Perez should have been more aggressive in raising a red flag when some of the numbers coming from the treasury were not squaring up.

The SCPR's take is that large numbers of Stark County voters perceived Zeigler not to have effectively managed the Stark County treasury in putting in place safeguards to have prevented his chief deputy Vince Frustaci from stealing some $2.46 million in Stark County taxpayer money over a number of years and culminating in the Spring of 2009.

Some departments of county government are in the Stone Age of computer technology particularly the courts and the Stark County Board of Elections.

Antiquated technology does impact the quality of services these departments of government can provide to Stark Countians.  Moreover, those departments of Stark County government which do not have "state of the art" technology have to be terribly inefficient and thereby diverting precious few Stark County general fund refunds from more productive use in service of Stark County's citizens.

Nobody that the SCPR knows of though disputes that Perez did a good thing in bring Henderson to the Stark County auditor's office.

The Stark County courts are just now getting on-board with an electronic filing system. Years and years after other Ohio counties have implemented the huge taxpayer money saving efficiencies that such a system will bring.

The Report understands that overall the court's technology remains as a hodgepodge of unsustainable technology pieces that will take Henderson and the new guy quite a long period of time and effort to get countywide technology to "state of the art" status.

It's a politically and "separation of powers-esque" sensitive thing for Harold to undertake.

Not only vis-a-vis the courts, but with the likes of the Stark County Sheriff's office and the Stark County Board of Elections.

Harold needs to stand behind his technology gurus and thereby keep nudging the technological Neanderthals (e.g. Stark BOE Director Jeff Matthews  [Stark County GOP chairman] and the BOE's members) who occupy taxpayer paid positions to put their agencies of government in a more capable and prepared technological status with which to serve the taxpaying Stark County public.

A simple thing that the Stark BOE can and should be doing is providing the general public with spreadsheet format election results data.

But when you have board members (Braden, Cline, Ferruccio and Sherer) who are out-and-out politicos in the sense they owe their jobs to their respective local political parties, it appears that they don't care one iota about making easily digestible and accessible election results information available to the general public.

Notwithstanding what the SCPR thinks are potential concerns about the integrity of the real property appraisal processes and, perhaps, politics being a factor in some of his hires, Alan Harold - for this quarter - deserves recognition as the SCPR's #4 Stark County in the Top 10 leaders because of:
  • his current and so far successful effort to tease technological advancement, restructuring out of various recalcitrant Stark County departments of government, and
  • his sea change in terms of the quality of "in the service of the public interest" changes he has made in the internal operation of the Stark County auditor's office pretty much across-the-board.
Like him (as the SCPR does) or loathe him, the fact of the matter is that Alan Harold is going to be a fixture in Stark County government and politics for a very, very, very long time.

Accordingly, he needs to be "at the head of the class" in terms of qualities he brings to Stark County leadership!

Tomorrow The Report will be presenting #5 on the Stark County Top 10 List of leaders.

Hint:  He benefited from political help from others.  But seems to lack the ability to step out of his comfort zone notwithstanding that he has a track record of being an outstanding administrator.

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