MAHONING COUNTY Officials defend system for filling job openings

County officials decide how widely to advertise a position job by job.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials are comfortable with the practice of posting most jobs they fill only in the public areas of county buildings.
Officials say they'd consider a written policy with standards on how widely to advertise certain jobs but don't see a pressing need.
The cost of advertising and a consistent field of quality applicants for county jobs are among the reasons they are satisfied with existing procedures.
"I think the practice is very fair. Our hiring practices are fair," said James F. Petraglia, county human resources director.
There is no written policy on how county job openings are advertised, Petraglia said. Instead, he and commissioners decide how widely to seek applications job by job. Petraglia said he consults with commissioners before posting each job to assure they concur with how to handle the opening.
State law requires only that a job be posted publicly, Petraglia said. Details on where, how and how often a position is advertised is up to local officials, he said.
Mahoning County circulates many openings simply by posting the position in the public areas of 43 county facilities, Petraglia said. Other jobs are advertised in local newspapers. Higher level department head positions are advertised in local and regional newspapers, other papers across the state and on a major Internet job board, he said.
Recent action
A recent hiring left questions about the county's procedures.
Commissioners hired Daniel J. Martin of Youngstown for the county lead-abatement office's assistant director despite his lacking a background in lead control issues. Just five people applied for the $37,000-per-year job, which was posted only at county buildings during eight days in June.
Like most other mid- and lower-level openings in county government, posting the assistant lead director's job was limited to in-house, Petraglia said.
"It was not unlike any other posting we've had," he said.
People interested in county jobs know they can peruse posted openings at any county office, Petraglia said. Many people have succeeded in finding a county job that way, he said.
"People know. They have the knowledge. If they come to the commissioners' office, they can apply here," he said. "To say they are unaware, it's a non-issue."
Cost concerns
Advertising can get expensive and is a concern, said Petraglia and Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, who is the board chairman.
Advertising in newspapers and on the Internet can cost hundreds of dollars for each ad, and the spending adds up, Petraglia said. Spending a few thousand dollars to fill a $25,000-per-year job doesn't make sense, he said. Critics would chastise county officials if they did, he said.
"That wouldn't be a wise spending of county money," Petraglia said.
Finding out about job openings through family or friends in county government isn't a crime either, Petraglia said. Job openings are well-circulated by postings and word of mouth just because of county government's sheer size and the number of citizens who come in contact with it everyday, he said.
"We interact with people all the time," he said.
Traficanti and Petraglia said they prefer hiring local people. Petraglia questions if residents would prefer officials fill jobs mostly with people from outside Mahoning County.
Petraglia and Traficanti said they are more than satisfied with the quality of applicants despite the usually limited circulation of postings.
Petraglia said each job opening filled this year typically generated five or six solidly qualified people. The task then is to pick the most qualified among the bunch, he said.
Enhanced efforts
Commissioners made a much greater effort this summer when seeking a new director for the Department of Job and Family Services. The $79,000 position involves managing a staff of more than 300 and a total operating budget of $370 million.
The county spent close to $7,000 advertising the job on the Internet and in newspapers across the state and region, Petraglia said. Ads ran in local newspapers and all the major cities between Pittsburgh and Dayton, he said.
The cost was worth it to find a top-notch candidate, he said. Commissioners hired John K. Zachariah, who served a year as director of the much larger Franklin County JFS. He was available because a political purge in Franklin County led several top department heads, including Zachariah, to resign.
Commissioners are now working to fill the director spot for the county lead-abatement office -- who will be Daniel Martin's boss. The job, which will pay $50,000 to $60,000, was posted in-house between Aug. 11 and Aug. 26 and was advertised in local newspapers, Petraglia said. Costs aren't in for advertising that position, he said.
Varied approaches
Traficanti noted that commissioners don't hire for all county departments. Other departments, such as the sheriff or sanitary engineer, have their own job posting procedures, he said.
Traficanti said the in-house posting method often is appropriate because county workers with bumping rights move into the available jobs, so outside applicants wouldn't be considered.
Petraglia said commissioners haven't asked him to create any comprehensive written standards for how the county advertises open positions, but he is open to suggestions.
Traficanti said he isn't sure what the county could do to make the process any more concrete or fair.
"It's not that difficult," he said. "There's no way somebody can be hired without everybody knowing."
Commissioner David Ludt, however, said he would be interested a written policy that sets standards for advertising county jobs.
"The more you expand it, the better quality of person you get," he said. "It's worth looking into."

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