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If qualifications don't matter then don't pretend they do



Published: Sat, February 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Of the three Mahoning County commissioners, only one has had actual experience negotiating contracts with public employee unions and dealing with labor issues in government. Yet, his opinion was ignored by his two colleagues when it came to hiring a county human resources director.

Commissioner John McNally IV, former law director for the city of Youngstown, was right in questioning the hiring of Atty. James F. Petraglia of Poland; commissioners David Ludt and Anthony Traficanti were wrong in ignoring the fact that Petraglia did not meet the qualification requirements established by the commissioners.

The new head of personnel does not have a "master's degree in public administration, human resources and/or labor relations or related field and a minimum of five [5] years experience in human resources administration, or an equivalent combination of education, training, and experience." The "Notice of Vacancy -- Mahoning County Human Resources" also states that "experience in public sector employment and labor negotiation and administration preferred."

What Petraglia does have is a law degree from Ohio Northern University and a bachelor's degree from Westminster College.

The r & eacute;sum & eacute; he submitted shows that his specialty is environmental law; from April 2002 until the date of hiring by commissioners Traficanti and Ludt, he was chief executive officer and general counsel for Everkleen Corporation of Youngstown.

Commissioner McNally's objections to Petraglia's getting this important position were not politically motivated, as Traficanti suggested, but were based on a simple premise: Government positions that require specific qualifications and experience and that are important to the economic well-being of county government must be filled by individuals who do not require on-the-job training.

Labor negotiations

But that's what Petraglia will need before he can take on the most important aspects of the human relations director's assignment -- labor contract negotiations and personnel policy development and implementation.

Indeed, it is instructive that county Auditor George Tablack, who supported the hiring, said he would introduce the new director to the state's top personnel directors to help get him acclimated to the workings of government in Ohio.

Here's how Tablack, who has long talked about seeking the most qualified individuals to serve in important government positions, justified Petraglia's hiring: Constance E. Pierce, who left the human resources job on Dec. 31, did not have the extensive experience and qualifications the commissioners asked for when she took the HR post six years ago; she grew into the job.

We have no doubt that Petraglia is capable of learning the job and may someday grow to be an outstanding human resources director, but given the enormous challenges facing Mahoning County because of the budget crisis and the need to exact concessions from the employee unions, his lack of experience does not inspire confidence.

And given that county government is, in actuality, a collection of elected officeholders who have statutory authority to run their departments as they see fit, including setting compensation levels for their employees, it will take someone with a deep understanding of government to deal with the obvious political hurdles.

The question that arises with Petraglia's hiring is this: Why pretend that qualifications matter when they don't?




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