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Changes at elections board necessary and long overdue

Published: Tue, June 5, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

When a public entity imple- ments changes to its operation that are far removed from the status quo, some acknowledgement is due. Thus, we say to the Mahoning County Board of Elections, “It’s about time.”

For years we have railed against the way the elections board office has operated, especially with regard to its hiring practices and the performance of the employees. While we are well aware that the Democratic and Republicans parties choose the workers, we have long advocated standards — a concept that is still foreign to much of the public sector.

That’s why the announcement last week of new work rules at the board of elections office is noteworthy. The rules will require a major change in attitude on the part of the managers and the workers.

Of major significance is the installation of a face-recognition time clock. In addition, workers are required to contact the director, Joyce Kale-Pesta, a Democrat, and deputy director, Thomas McCabe, a Republican, when leaving the office. Cellphone use is also restricted.

The announcement of the changes was made by Kale-Pesta, who appeared to go out of her way to avoid criticizing the employees. There have been some abuses of work rules, but nothing serious, she said.

As for the time clocks, the director said that during slower times of the year some employees have left the office without clocking out, and the new system is designed to avoid any abuses.

Kale-Pesta’s reluctance to criticize what has been going on contrasts sharply with what the newest board member, Atty. David Betras, chairman of the county Democratic Party, has been saying. As we noted in an editorial earlier this year after by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, appointed Betras to the board, the Democratic leader has talked about the unhealthy relationship between Democrats and Republicans on the board and on staff, and pledged to push for a working environment that is based on the “trust, but verify” rule.

In seeking the board position, Betras said the taxpayers of Mahoning County should get their money’s worth from the employees of the elections board office. Requiring full-time workers to put in a full day of work — eight hours — is the goal.

We believe the new work rules, bolstered by the face-recognition time clock, will go a long way toward reassuring a public that is skeptical and critical of government.

Indeed, Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, a veteran of city politics, is aware of the prevailing attitude — more than 80 percent of the operating revenue of most public entities goes for salaries and benefits — and is cracking the whip.

Smoking breaks

The city is also installing time clocks in all but the police department that will be based on fingerprint recognition. But it isn’t only for when city employees show up for work in the morning or leave in afternoon. What has struck Sammarone is the amount of time employees who smoke spend away from their desks standing outside City Hall. He wants to ensure that the union contracts that provide a specific amount of break time aren’t being violated.

Sammarone has not been reluctant to express his dismay over what he considers the lack of commitment to public service on the part of some employees and has begun a review of all aspects of city government’s operations.

We have called for a similar review of the board of elections office, arguing that an analysis of the payroll is justified. The taxpayers have a right to know who’s on the payroll, what qualifications they possess and how much money they are being paid.

It’s called transparency in government, which taxpayers are demanding.

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