County government must fill key positions quickly

Mahoning County government has been without a budget director for three years, and it could soon be without a personnel director when J. Kevin Sellards retires in April. Commissioners Edward Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt hope to have the two positions filled within six months. We hope the hirings occur much sooner than that because there's a lot of work to be done, both on the fiscal and personnel fronts, as the recent state performance audit of county government showed.
In July 1997, Thomas Stanko, assistant to county Auditor George Tablack, was appointed director of the Office of Management and Budget with the directive from the commissioners to develop a five-year and 10-year capital budget and multi-year spending plans. Unfortunately, Stanko resigned in January 1998, and the county never filled the position. Why?
Because the refusal of the voters to stabilize the county's finances by consistently passing the 0.5 percent sales tax made it nearly impossible to attract highly qualified applicants. The on-again, off-again tax made job security something the commissioners could not promise.
Thus, for the past three years, county Administrator Gary Kubic and the staff of the Office of Management and Budget have handled budgetary duties. It is fortunate that Kubic is an accountant by profession and had extensive government accounting experience, having served as finance director for the city of Youngstown.
Necessity: As for the human resources department, the performance audit conducted by state Auditor Jim Petro's office makes it clear that a centralized personnel operation is not only a desirable goal, it is a financial necessity.
The individual who replaces Sellards would face the challenge of persuading every officeholder in county government to surrender some of his or her authority so a job classification plan could be developed and salary structures created.
While it would be outstanding if Mahoning County government adopted all 210 recommendations contained in the state audit, thereby realizing savings of $5 million a year, even Petro acknowledges that there are some hurdles to clear before that goal can be met.
At the top of the list are the 18 collective bargaining agreements that would have to be renegotiated. Indeed, $1.2 million of the $5 million in savings identified by the state are related to the union contracts. As county Auditor Tablack has preached for 15 years, Mahoning County must pull together the fragmented, decentralized personnel operations.
It is evident that the OMB and personnel directors will have major roles to play in making county government more efficient. We're encouraged that their hirings are a top priority for commissioners Sherlock, Reese and Ludt -- but they should aim to get the individuals on board as soon as possible. By April, when Sellards is scheduled to leave, would be best.

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