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Mahoning Democrats gamble if they put politics above the people


Published: Wed, September 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


When Mahoning County's Democratic precinct committeemen and committeewomen meet tonight to name someone to fill the unexpired term of former Auditor George Tablack, they might want to consider how badly an appointment based on political considerations rather than merit can come back to bite you.
A week ago, President Bush was standing in Louisiana telling his FEMA director, Michael Brown, "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie." By yesterday, "Brownie" had tendered his overdue resignation and President Bush was saying that he accepts responsibility for shortcomings in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
That is not to say that anything the Mahoning County auditor does will be able to wreak the kind of havoc on Mahoning County that Katrina did on the Gulf Coast. But this is a county that is already in fiscal crisis, a county that seemingly can't afford to keep its criminals in jail and a county in which it has often been necessary for the auditor to settle funding disputes between various governmental entities.
Cash flow
Hundreds of millions of dollars flow through Mahoning County's financial pipes, and it is the responsibility of the auditor to see that each dollar gets where it's supposed to when it is supposed to.
Ohio's system of government is two centuries old, and county overseers were originally intended to be private citizens first and part-time officials second. There are still some county offices that might lend themselves to part-time attention, but since they all now pay the equivalent of full-time salaries, few candidates are brave (or foolish) enough to run as part-time office holders. But whatever demands of some county offices may be, the office of auditor requires the full-time attention of a person with the training and experience to do the job.
The only thing that should be on the minds of precinct representatives when they vote tonight is who can do the best job for the county taxpayers -- not for the party, and certainly not for party leaders or cronies.
The former auditor, George Tablack, was a legend in his own mind. His conviction that only he knew what was best for the county and every department in it, the city and every municiapl branch, every school district and every township in the county often worked against him. But one thing that could not be taken away from Tablack was his understanding of the intricacies of government finances. That expertise will be difficult to replace, but members of the party committee must make an honest attempt to choose from the six people vying for the job the one who comes closest.
The candidates, in alphabetical order, are:
Michael Fortine of Canfield, a certified public accountant.
Michael J. Klim of Campbell, a former New Middletown mayor who runs MJK Financial Services in Poland.
John J. Leskovyansky Jr., Campbell's finance director.
Michael V. Sciortino of Austintown, county election board director and a former assistant county administrator.
Anne Marie Vross of Canfield, the county's interim auditor.
Struthers Councilman Dan Yemma, owner and president of Capital Financial Solutions Inc., a mortgage brokerage firm.
Each candidate will have an opportunity tonight to describe his or her experience and qualifications.
This is a political process, so every serious candidate will be doing some politicking.
Going too far
However, stacking the vote with 11th hour committee appointments and establishing scenarios under which the appointment of one candidate would have a domino effect in which various party loyalists would be rewarded with new jobs should be beyond the ken.
This is a job that pays nearly $80,000 a year and with fringe benefits is worth well over $100,000. It should be filled by the best possible applicant. Not a friend. Not a good party soldier. Not even the best politician.
Any precinct committeeman or committeewoman who needs a reminder of why qualifications trump connections is free to clip out the picture at right and take it along tonight as a reminder.


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