Thursday, April 2, 2015



See letter from Massillon Fire Chief Tom Burgasser to Lawrence Township Trustees on North Lawrence Fire Department and Orrville Street Structure Fire of March 6, 2015

Last Monday (March 23, 2015), 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,
  • Stark County's #4 leader; namely, Stark County Auditor Alan Harold,
  • Stark County's #5 leader; namely, Stark County Treasurer Alex Zumbar,
  • Stark County's #6 leader; namely, Canton City Councilman Richard Hart,
  • Stark County #7 leader; namely, Alliance City Councilwoman Julie Jakmides,
  • Stark County #8 leader; namely, Massillon City Councilman Paul Manson,
  • Stark County #9 leader; namely, Alliance's Mayor Alan Andreani,
Today's blog is on Trustee Mike Stevens of Lawrence Township located in northwest Stark County.

Readers may be surprised to see Stevens appear on The Top 10 List, but after reading this blog should understand why he is the only Stark County trustee to make it.

However, Stevens' work as Lawrence Township trustee to enhance the quality of and effective functioning of the township's fire and emergency response performance is key to his merit of being selected as #10 on the SCPR's Stark County "Top 10" Leadership List as is described in more detail later on in this blog.

According to Stevens, he grew up in Plain Township where he graduated from GlenOak High School in 1968.

He went on to Kent State from which he graduated in 1972 with a degree in education.

From there he taught in Jackson Township for some six to seven years.

In 1976, he moved to Lawrence Township (Canal Fulton area) where he still resides with his wife.  His two daughters matriculated through the Northwest Local Schools and one of whom currently lives in Lawrence and the other in Massillon.

He left teaching to work, first seasonally, then permanently at Clay's Park rising over years to the ranks of management and where he worked for until 2004 and the election of Kim Perez as county auditor for whom (at Perez's solicitation) he went to work for some three to three and one-half years, at which point in time he went over to the city of Massillon to work as a Streets Department Supervisor in the administration of Frank Cicchinelli.

He stayed with Massillon through Cicchinelli's term in office through December, 2011 having been defeated in the 2011 Democratic primary by current mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry.

He wanted to stay on with the new administration.  At first it appeared that Catazaro-Perry was open to the idea.  However, it is thought that once one-time-Stevens confidant and Catazaro-Perry prime sponsor Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. got wind of Stevens entreaty to stay on, he suddenly became "persona-non-grata"

Consequently, Stevens retired and has limited himself to being a Lawrence Township trustee, a post that he has held for some 22 years.

For years he was the trustee who was assigned to monitoring police and fire operations of the township for the Board of Township Trustees.

Though he has been elected in six successive elections beginning in 1991, he was interrupted a year in 2000 when Maier chose Stevens to succeed him as 56th Ohio House District representative (now the 50th which does not in its current configuration include Lawrence Township, a community of some 13,000 residents) when Maier stepped down in late 1999, early 2000 because he could not run again in November of 2000 due to 8 year term limits.

In November, Stevens lost a close election to Republican John Hagan of Marlboro Township.

It seems to the SCPR that Stevens' loss was the beginning of Stevens' falling out of the good graces of Maier.

Ever since there was a growing hostility between Maier, Jr. and Stevens.  A key for Stevens on being on the downside of Maier was that he (Maier) because Stark County Dems' chairman in 2004, the year Stevens ran a very close campaign against Republican incumbent Stark County commissioner Jane Vignos.

An interesting saga surrounds the 2004 Democratic primary for who was going to be the Democratic Party nominee for one of two commissioners positions up for election is 2004.

Here is an excerpt from a 2009 SCPR blog which graphically describes the drama:
The first indications to Stevens that he was not a Maier "favorite," should have come with Stevens' running for county commissioner in 2004.

Initially, some disaffected  Democrats put Frank Ferraro of Perry Township up against Maier "best friend" and now former county commissioner Gayle Jackson.

Did Maier and Jackson scream about the Ferraro candidacy?  You betcha!


Under Maier/Jackson pressure, he switches races and runs against Mike Stevens.

It is a credible that Maier and Jackson cajoling Ferraro over to the Stevens race was the difference in Stevens general election race against incumbent Republican commissioner Jane Vignos.

Another factor in the 2004 race, as Stevens tells it, was current Stark County Party chairman Randy Gonzalez furor at Stevens running for commissioner in the first place because this was to be Steve Meeks (then a Jackson trustee) race.

Is 2009 "get even" time for Gonzalez now that Harmon is vacating his commissioner seat?

Seems so.
To get a fuller flavor of Stevens' fight with the Maier faction (which includes recently resigned chairman Randy Gonzalez, current Stark County Dems' chairman Phil Giavasis and Plain Township trustee Louis Giavasis [who is also a chief deputy of Clerk of Courts Nancy Reinbold]) take a look at the follow links:
One has to admire Stevens for his demonstrated spunk in "from within the Stark County Democratic Party" for taking on the the likes of the Maiers, the Giavasis brothers and Randy Gonzalez.

Such is a rarity.  His political gumption indicates that Mike Stevens does have the capacity to be his own man in a hostile environment which the SCPR thinks is a quality of political leadership that is missing among most "within the party" Stark County Democrat and Republican elected officials.

When the likes of Mike Stevens go MIA, then political parties are apt to degenerate into a conspiratorial-esque click in which political party action for the good of the community is jettisoned in favor of the personal political interests of those who comprise the click.

And that is exactly what the state of affairs the SCPR thinks that much of the "organized" Stark Democratic and Republican parties and their respective leadership are in today.

A consequence of such is that everyday citizens become more and more alienated from government officials even at the local level.

Added to Stevens' demonstrated spunk in fighting the selfish interests within his political party is his work for a united, efficient and effective fire and emergency responders effort in Lawrence Township.

Stevens says his work began in the 1990s with his attempt to create a Lawrence Township Fire District which he as the deciding trustee vote was implemented about 1993.

That structure brought the Lawrence Township, the Canal Fulton and the North Lawrence (a private entity that contracts with Lawrence trustees to about the tune of $90,000 annually) Fire Departments together in a coordinated and integrated fire fighting and emergency services unit that had the potential to be one of the most effective township fire and rescue services in all of Stark County.

But Stevens' deciding vote was for naught.

A year later, Stevens says, the North Lawrence Fire Department leadership put on a ballot initiative to do away with the united fire district.

And, he says, that these same folks vowed to work for the defeat of any trustee who supported the formation of the fire district.

Stevens believes that fellow trustee (in voting for the formation of the joint district) Michael Mahaney was a victim of doing the right thing for Lawrence Township and that the roll back of the district at the initiative of the North Lawrence FD leadership has come back to haunt the township here in 2015.  As a consequence of a March 6th structure fire incident as described in Massillon Fire Chief Tom Burgasser's letter of March 13th to Lawrence Township trustee, the SCPR understands that the State of Ohio Fire Marshal and the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association have launched an investigation.

By 1995 it appears that the North Lawrence furor had abated as witness Stevens' reelection in the November general election.

Moreover, Stevens tells the SCPR that his vote in the North Lawrence area in elections since 1995 have garnered him about 60% of the vote.

As for the failure of the "joint fire district" matter "coming back to haunt" Lawrence Township factor is concerned, Stevens says that there was an fire/emergency force incident about two weeks ago in what the SCPR labels as being the "Orrville Street matter" of March 6, 2015 (reference letter from Burgasser to Lawrence Township trustees, dated March 13th) in which a Massillon emergency forces worker was injured.

Stevens says that the trustees have in hand a letter from Massillon Fire Department chief Tom Burgasser saying that unless and until the training/education standards of the North Lawrence FD (NLFD) improve to an acceptable level that Massillon will no longer respond to a mutual aid call from Lawrence Township in which the NLFD is a factor in terms of interior operations.

Stevens says that the Lawrence trustees (one of whom, Kampf is a North Lawrence resident) have specifically in the most recent contract - which has about two years to run - designated money for training and education but which has not been tapped into by NLFD leadership.

Steven points in pride to the fact that he was a leader back (casting the deciding vote) in 1992 in the vote to implement the Lawrence Township's joint fire district.

Moreover, Stevens is proud of the role he has played in working with Canal Fulton officials to have created a de facto but not formal joint Lawrence Township/Canal Fulton 24/7 fire/emergency forces staffing at a relatively new station situated in the heart of the township at 1165 Locust Street South. The building complex is named the Eugene M. Fellmeth Safety Center.

To his frustration, the NLFD is not a part of what Stevens terms as a "Living Together" arrangement effective April 1, 2013 between Lawrence Township and Canal Fulton fire and rescue operations.

For his gutty political leadership and his work towards creating a first-rate fire department/emergency forces effective, highly-trained and coordinated structure in service of Lawrence Township residents, the SCPR is pleased to designate Trustee Mike Stevens as #10 on the SCPR Stark County "Top 10" Leaders List.

This blog concludes for the quarter beginning April 1, 2015 the "to be revised quarterly" Top 10 List.

Beginning on or about May 1st, it is the plan of the SCPR to initiate a "to be revised quarterly Bottom Top 10" Leadership assessment list of those elected officials who leave much to be desired in terms of the quality of leadership they provide.

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