In local government, there’s courage amid chaos

Time magazine called 2011 “The year of The Protester.”

In Ohio, this could be called “The year of the government worker.” It seemed no matter where you turned, everyone had a concern one way or another.

Gov. John Kasich beat his Senate Bill 5 drum.

Schools and townships pushed new levy efforts — many to failure.

Some government worker contracts showed no pay hikes for the first time in forever.

And arbitrators paid out more tax dollars that weren’t theirs in places such as Liberty Township.

All of this puts us at a good point to make change.

In some local government operations, there was actually evidence of courage against the accepted (I’ll get to that at the end).

I think a few more failed levies and personnel changes this coming March will get taxpayers in even better shape.

I say that because while there is attention, there is not enough action. Mahoning County operations continue to be a great poster child for such.

Here is a suggestion for the Occupy Youngstown folks: You will have more impact locally if you occupy a commission meeting or a township meeting. Try it for a few months, please.

We are a county that has little banked money, has 219 jail beds closed while bodies pile into the morgue, has roads repaved every 20 years instead of every 10, has employees on layoffs across many departments, among other issues.

Yet, through November, we handed out $655,700 in 2011 pay raises. You can bet that by December, we will be at $750,000 in increased wages. And those increased wages also include increased pension and benefits payments. Combined — you could easily round up to $1 million in new wages this year for the county.

Those raises include Prosecutor Paul Gains’ legendary-by-now staff raises of 15 percent and 20 percent, and Engineer Richard Marsico’s wages-in-lieu-of-new-dress-shoes-allowances and the forgotten raises at the county board of health.

Add to those charades:

An assistant prosecutor in November who got a 4 percent bump that was on top of an 11 percent bump in February that was on top of a 10 percent bump in 2010.

At Child Support Enforcement, four staffers got 8 percent pay bumps in October that were on top of 3 percent bumps in the spring.

About 20 folks at Job and Family Services cashed in nearly 5 percent raises this month.

For CSEA and JFS, the raises were called for in their contract.

“Called for in the contract” is among my favorite government speak, right up there with “These are not pay hikes. These are step increases.”

Did that same contract call for 10 percent unemployment?

I would love to see CSEA and JFS folks sit down with the deputy sheriffs’ contract people and compare approaches to doing the right thing.

Over the past couple of years, deputies have coughed up about $4,000 to $6,000 per person to keep co-workers off the unemployment line and keep safety services at the highest affordable levels.

Workers at CSEA and JFS? Well — their union reps protected them from earthquakes and ensured their contracted pay raises were adhered to as they served more of our newly unemployed.

So though there is attention, there’s certainly not enough action.

Hence the request for a few more failed levies, some help from Occupy Youngstown and pressure on all government workers to force the bad workers to buckle.

Here’s why I think there is hope:

In Beaver Township and in Poland Township over the past several weeks, township workers acted against their own township workers due to misdeeds.

Would that have happened in 2010 or 2005?

In Poland, three street department workers were suspended (one opted to retire) after unspecified misdeeds arose. One worker was the brother of the police chief, who reportedly was not even made aware of the probe.

In Beaver, two firefighters who were brothers resigned after they admitted padding their timecards for a few extra thousand dollars.

The kicker was that some friends implored Beaver officials to just give them a warning.

“They should have been immediately told they cannot do that,” someone wrote.

Told what? Thou shalt not steal?

I think the Ten Commandments covered that. But some worker contracts probably trump that set of rules.

So in Beaver and in Poland, leaders did the right thing and pounced on problems in their ranks.

I call that a good start heading into 2012.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at He blogs, too, on

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