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Lead program hiring deserves to be revoked



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Mahoning County commissioners strain credulity when they insist that Daniel J. Martin is qualified to hold the position of assistant director/program processor in the county's lead-abatement office. Commissioners David Ludt, Anthony Traficanti and John A. McNally IV should either be honest with the public and admit that they hired an individual with political connections rather than qualifications, or they should revisit their decision. We opt for the latter -- after a true confession by the three officeholders.

An objective review of Martin's r & eacute;sum & eacute; leads to only one conclusion: He has no business being involved in the county's lead-abatement program, let alone serving as the assistant director.

Martin's lack of first-hand experience with a program designed, among other things, to keep children from being poisoned by lead-based paint found in older homes, mostly in the inner city in Youngstown, takes on even greater significance because of the impending retirement of Director Gary Singer.

Ludt, Traficanti and McNally said they selected Martin, a former delicatessen owner and a former employee of the Youngstown clerk of courts office under Clerk Rosemary Durkin, because they wanted to get somebody on board as soon as possible.

That's the worst possible reason for hiring an individual with no discernible qualifications for a job that requires specific skills and educational background. Indeed, the best reason the commissioners could come up with for putting Martin on the payroll is that he had some grant-writing experience while working for Durkin, once a powerful voice in Democratic Party politics.

Free service

There is no doubt that applying for grants is an important aspect of the lead-abatement program, but Singer has said that after he retires, he would be willing to help write grants to keep federal money flowing. And he would do it for free.

Indeed, given Singer's long commitment to keeping the children of the county out of harm's way, we believe he would have put off his Sept. 30 retirement date until a qualified, experienced assistant director were found.

Singer was one of the few local government bureaucrats to respond with a sense of urgency after a Vindicator series in 1998 revealed the extent of the lead poisoning problem in Youngstown. The series resulted in the federal officials taking a close look at what was going on in the city.

By only posting the job in county government offices, the commissioners limited the pool of applicants for the $46,500 a year position. That was the salary Diane Seydlorsky was making when she resigned as the assistant director to move to North Carolina.

Martin, with his lack of qualifications, is being paid $37,000.

Last year, he applied for the position of county dog warden, even though he did not have the qualifications or experience to be the chief animal control officer. Yet, he was on the list of finalists, which suggests that he had some powerful friends in the community lobbying for him. In 2000, Martin ran unsuccessfully for state representative.

His appointment as assistant director of the lead-abatement office must not stand. The commissioners should set aside his hiring and seek applications statewide.

Just as we criticized the appointment of James F. Petraglia as the county's human resources director because he did not possess specific qualifications for the job -- it is noteworthy that Petraglia narrowed the field of five applicants to three, including Martin -- we likewise criticize the filling of the lead-abatement position.

It is noteworthy that one of the three finalists, Clyde Kemp Jr., currently works in the lead-abatement office and has the state license for lead contractor/supervisor and the state license for risk assessor. However, the commissioners say that Kemp told them he did not have the grant-writing skills the job demands. But as we noted earlier, Singer will be available to write grants.

So, if Kemp, who has worked in the lead-abatement program since its inception in 1997, does not believe he is fully qualified to serve as the assistant director -- according to the commissioners -- how does Martin, who has a degree in middle school education from Youngstown State University, become such a gift to county government?

That's the question the commissioners must answer.

Care-less attitude

Beyond our failure to find any reason for Martin's hiring, we are incensed with Commissioner Traficanti's care-less attitude toward the lead-abatement program -- as revealed in a statement he made to The Vindicator.

In defending Martin's hiring, he said that if the assistant director does not perform, "he will be removed as anyone else would be." Then he added this ludicrous comment:

"Those people [in the lead-abatement office] must earn their own keep. If they don't get the federal grant money, the program will basically end."

Does Traficanti have any idea what is going on in the city of Youngstown with regard to this health hazard? Does he know that in the past decade, 2,500 children in the city were diagnosed with lead poisoning, and that 400 homes were identified as having lead-based paints that were peeling or chipping from walls?

Does the commissioner know that there is a link between children who have been poisoned by lead and their inability to learn in school?

Do he and his colleagues even care?

Their decision to hire Martin certainly does not reflect the level of concern we expect from such high-ranking officeholders.

Mahoning County residents deserve better.




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