Auditor George Tablack said he didn't need to wait for a pay raise resolution.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners say it's the auditor's fault that employees in the county engineer's office were paid raises without commissioners' approval.
"The county auditor's office never should have paid those raises without an enabling resolution from the commissioners," said county Administrator Gary Kubic. "They made a mistake."
That riled Auditor George Tablack, who said his staff did nothing wrong. He said commissioners have a human resources director who participated in contract talks with the engineer's office and should have been on top of what was going on.
"They are disingenuous and out of touch," Tablack said of commissioners. "They don't know what's going on in their own shop, and now they're looking for a fall guy."
Engineer Richard Marsico sent a letter to Tablack's payroll clerk May 13, 2002, informing her that a tentative agreement on wages and insurance had been reached with Teamsters Local 377, which represents 79 workers at the engineer's office.
The letter says a $1 hourly wage increase was negotiated, effective May 1, 2002, and 65-cent increases to be effective at the beginning of 2003 and 2004.
It also says that commissioners had not acted on legislation to approve the agreement, but were being kept informed by Pierce, who is a lawyer. A copy of the tentative agreement was attached to the letter and was signed by Marsico, Pierce and others.
"When we have settled all of the contract language issues, we will have the commissioners approve the final contract," Marsico wrote in the letter.
Tablack said his clerk "took that to be in good faith" because of the signatures on it, even though commissioners hadn't signed it. She started paying the higher wages, effective May 1, 2002.
"I don't fault her for what she did," Tablack said.
Should have checked
But Kubic said when the letter came without a signed contract and without a resolution by commissioners approving the raises, Tablack or his staff should have called commissioners for clarification before doing anything.
"Everybody knows the commissioners speak by resolution," Kubic said. "You don't make employee changes with a labor group without a contract."
He said if the auditor's office had called the matter to commissioners' attention last year, they could have voted on that part of the contract while the rest of the pact was being negotiated.
The final, full contract wasn't finished until January 2003 and was not voted on by commissioners until Thursday. They rejected it by a 2-1 vote.
"Now, because it went through the auditor's office and they paid it, we might not have a choice but to honor the raises," Kubic said.
Prosecutor Paul Gains said he believes there is case law indicating that the raises must remain in effect, even though commissioners didn't know until last week that they were being paid.
Kubic said rather than admit his office made a mistake, Tablack is trying to excuse it away. Tablack said commissioners have made the raises "a political football."
He said commissioners should have picked up on the raises when they approved Marsico's budget in December. He'll demand a meeting with commissioners where they can air out the situation across a table.
"Apparently they want me to be responsible for their own employee's actions, and I find that disturbing," Tablack said.