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Maybe county should have closed for the week

Published: Sun, February 6, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

If we had the passion of the Egyptians, how would we address our Mahoning County leaders?

I think that’s where Americans fall short compared with our world counterparts: We don’t walk our talk enough.

Our talk this week has been pretty heated as we analyze recent pay-raise information coming out of Mahoning County:

In recent weeks, more than $360,000 in pay raises were handed out to county workers who serve a community that has 10 percent unemployment, is a foreclosure poster child and has a retail corridor replete with cash-advance stores.

Adding to that unrosy picture, the county specifically has closed jail cells, has workers laid off across many departments, has continuing costs to move into the earthquake- ravaged Oakhill compound and enormous legal bills pending for nine death-penalty defendants on trial this year — all at our expense.

Despite all of this, there were funds to dole out enough 10 percent and 20 percent pay hikes in January that you would need a buddy’s fingers to count them all.

My column last week started some rich debate. Thank you, e-mailers and message boarders. Thank you, talk radio. Thank you, Prosecutor Paul Gains for getting on Channels 27 and 33 the Friday before the column to spin your $288,000 in pay hikes.

Then, amid that debate, God weighed in. He brought a relatively minor snowstorm to Northeast Ohio in February. Go figure. And the above- referenced county government did what no other county in Northeast Ohio did: It closed.

County EMA director Clark Jones, county Administrator George Tablack and Judge Mark A. Belinky were the power triumvirate to order the closing that became a $200,000-plus taxpayer freebie.

Among their excuses is that they follow Youngstown State University’s lead in when to close. With that logic, I imagine if those three men took over the Springfield Grille, they’d advise the chef to get burger advice from Burger King.

Legitimately, YSU operates on different parallels than a government. It pulls young drivers from everywhere, it has miles of sidewalks to maintain, it has autistic children and other noncollege activities to manage — many things that have nothing to do with a 45-year-old title-and-deeds clerk carefully driving in from Boardman.

And, do they not read the headlines of YSU bonuses and cushy union contracts? This is an operation to model without question?

Here’s a standard for Team Clark, Mark & George to consider: WRTA did not miss one bus route over the two-day, um, “blizzard.” All workers got to work and drove buses from 5 a.m. to midnight without catastrophe.

I would measure up to that the next time.

But don’t look for that. You see, it is unwise to second-guess Jones, suggested Tablack in his continuing charade of leadership. He cornered me Thursday in the basement of the courthouse — which was open despite the partly cloudy skies and the threat of more clouds to come. (Plus, we are knee-deep in earthquake season.) The cornering was another episode of getting “tablacked,” which Webster’s defines as “the appearance of two people having a back-forth conversation when in actuality it is one person talking and the other person resigned to listening.”

Tablack does not want to revisit the wisdom employed in wasting $200,000 in taxpayer funds and being the laughingstock of other government operations because some day, in some county building — real or imagined or yet to be purchased or rented — a pipe might break, and he doesn’t want county guys such as Jones to not act on their immediate instinct to shut off the water and fix that pipe.

Seriously, he said that. I have a witness.

If coach Mike Tomlin reasoned like Tablack, the Pittsburgh Steelers would still have Jeff Reed as their kicker: “Sure, Jeff’s missing from everywhere on the field, but from 10 yards and in, he’s perfect.”

Yeah, and the Steelers would not be in the Super Bowl today.

I am out of space to share with you my exchange this week with Judge Theresa Dellick — which was as fruitful as the tablacking I took for the benefit of you kind readers. (But I have plenty of space online. Go to my blog on vindy.com to read about that episode.)

As you watch the courage being displayed in Egypt and wonder what you can do as you process all of this, consider:

The issue is not necessarily the money we pay, because I think $32,000 for CSB workers, and $50,000 for lawyers and $11.92 an hour for deputies is a great deal. There are great deals at Belleria Pizzeria, and even those don’t match the deals on salaries with rank-and-file county workers.

The issue is how our money is spent.

And that means who is in charge. And you should start keeping score of them:

Tablack and Jones are employed at the mercy of the commissioners.

Paul Gains and Engineer Rich Marsico, who also doled out raises in his department, are up for re-election next year.

Judge Dellick is up for re-election in 2016.

Keep score. And let them know you are.

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

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