To understand just how much George J. Tablack has transformed the Office of Mahoning County Auditor during his nine-year tenure, ask yourself this question -- if you're old enough to remember that era: Did you ever hear Stephen R. Olenick, Tablack's predecessor who served as auditor for 25 years, talk about Government Accounting Principles? Or, push for a performance audit of county government? Or, advocate such commonsense initiatives as the development of a personnel manual that would apply to all county employees?
Olenick's was a different time -- when someone with a high school education but deep political roots would have no trouble being elected Youngstown city councilman, state senator and county auditor. Indeed, Olenick even chaired the Mahoning County Democratic Party while holding elective office. He died in 1996.
But given today's reality of public offices such as county auditor, there is no room for political deal-making. Government accounting is far too complicated to be placed in the hands of someone with no specific qualifications and experience. We use the word specific because that's the standard established by Tablack, a certified public accountant who had served as head of the Youngstown Employment and Training Corp. before his bid to succeed Olenick.
Lest anyone think we're placing too much emphasis on qualifications and experience, consider this: The 48-year-old Tablack will be leaving July 31 to become chief financial officer of the clerk and comptroller office in Palm Beach County, Fla. He will oversee the checks and balances for revenue and spending from that county's $3.8 billion budget -- that's billion with a "b."
Mahoning County's budget this year is $39.9 million.
Democratic Party appointment
The Democratic Party's precinct committee members will appoint a replacement to serve until the end of Tablack's term, March 8, 2007. The election for the full four-year term starting in March '07 will be held next year. While the Democratic Party's natural inclination is to think politically, we would hope that today's party would not revert to the past when political hacks held many important offices.
Chairwoman Lisa Antonini, an employee in the county treasurer's office, made the following statement last week that gives some reassurance, but also some pause: "Qualifications are important, and electability, from the party's perspective, is important. This is a critical time for the county and we need someone with a strong work ethic."
It would have been refreshing to hear Antonini say that only qualifications and experience mattered and that the party would do whatever was necessary to ensure that the person appointed could meet the standards of performance established by Tablack.
If the precinct committeemen and women decide to appoint someone with political connections, we would hope the chairwoman and members of her inner circle would dissuade that person from seeking the party's nomination next year and go out and recruit an individual with tested credentials to run in the primary.
Indeed, Antonini should seek Tablack's guidance in developing a list of possible successors who would ensure a seamless transition. Mahoning County government, which is in the midst of a financial crisis, must have a chief financial officer who can hit the ground running.