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The county commissioner honed his negotiating skills working for a former congressman.


Published: Sun, March 5, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The county commissioner honed his negotiating skills working for a former congressman.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Anthony Traficanti knew what he was saying when he made a campaign pledge to work full time in the part-time post of Mahoning County commissioner.
Fourteen months into his first term as an elected official, Traficanti finds himself wearing three hats but ready to toss aside at least one of them.
"I love the work. It's not easy. There's times I'm frustrated," Traficanti, 40, said from his county office, which is decorated with memorabilia from the years he worked for former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.
Traficanti's perspective comes from his three-pronged role in county government as commissioner, president of the board of commissioners and acting county administrator.
The president's job became Traficanti's at the first meeting he attended in January 2005. Traficanti didn't anticipate taking it, but he believed Commissioners David Ludt and John A. McNally IV chose him because of his margin of victory in the election and his professional background, he said.
Besides presiding at commissioners meetings, the president signs many contracts and agreements on the county's behalf.
The administrator's job wasn't unexpected. When Traficanti took office, the county was "bankrupt ... my predecessors left the cupboard bare," he said. One of two half-percent sales tax issues had not been renewed by voters.
What happened
The county couldn't afford to fill the vacant administrator's job, so Traficanti assumed those duties "to demonstrate just how bad the county's financial woes were," he said. State law permits him to perform the job but without extra pay.
As Traficanti now knows, the bulk of an administrator's time is spent on budgetary and financial affairs. His responsibilities as commissioner and administrator often merged and sometimes clashed.
Morale among the administrative staff was "terrible" when he took office, Traficanti said. There were many resignations, some of which resulted from political rivalries.
"I wasn't going to allow a de facto government to run this county," Traficanti said. "Past politicos were not going to control certain individuals."
Commissioners also dealt with the ramifications of a successful federal lawsuit by inmates over conditions at the county jail; budget cuts from $13 million in lost sales tax revenue; and a new campaign for the sales tax, which voters approved last May. Had it been defeated again, the county would have entered fiscal emergency, Traficanti said.
"Thank God for the taxpayers that they passed that tax," Traficanti said.
The county borrowed a $7.3 million tax anticipation note last July against future sales tax collections to address the jail's overcrowding and understaffing issues. Traficanti singled out George Tablack, the county's former auditor and current budget director, for helping commissioners with the process.
A good deal
Traficanti is proud of the deal the county reached last September with BFI Carbon Limestone Sanitary Landfill in Poland Township. The county now receives tipping fees on municipal solid waste that BFI brings in from beyond a 175-mile radius of the landfill. That's an additional $250,000 per year for the county's general fund that he hopes to use for economic development, Traficanti added.
The agreement also calls for BFI to provide free curbside collection of magazines, catalogs and junk mail. The value of that service is about $1 million, Traficanti said
Asked how that was achieved, Traficanti said, "I am a good negotiator. When I negotiate with people, I look them in the eye. ... I raise my voice sometimes."
Traficanti honed those skills while working for Traficant. He was regional director of the 17th Congressional District, then was named its administrator after Traficant was expelled from Congress in July 2002.
Traficant "was a man who demanded the best, and Jim wasn't afraid to speak his mind," Traficanti said.
Neither is Traficanti.
In assessing his first year in office, he said, "I've kept my promise. I've led by example. I dare anybody to come into the situation that I inherited and do as noble a job as I have done."
What's needed
Traficanti's time as administrator has solidified his belief that the county needs a permanent 1 percent sales tax. No other county in Ohio with a population and crime rate similar to Mahoning County's operates on less than 1 percent sales tax, he said.
Getting to that point requires "faith in government, faith in commissioners that we've done what the public expects us to do," he added.
County revenues are more stable this year, so commissioners are advertising to hire an administrator. "We do need someone to be on finances 100 percent of the time," Traficanti said. "I'm kind of anxious to get someone in here. It will take a huge burden off of me."
Additionally, the administrator will be the spokesman for all three commissioners when it comes to county policies. Traficanti acknowledged that his dual role as commissioner and administrator has "created some issues among the staff" and that "one voice will temper three voices," he said.
Traficanti's role in selecting the next administrator will be supplemented by his experience.
"I'll be very critical in those interviews because I've already done the job," Traficanti said. "Somebody's got to be a sharp cookie to do that."
shaulis@vindy.com


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