By Peter H. Milliken
Marilyn Kenner retires as chief deputy Mahoning County engineer today after 23 years in that position and 32 years with the engineer’s office.
Kenner, who has managed day-to-day operations, said she and her boss, Engineer Richard Marsico, who retires in January, are leaving the office in good condition for the next county engineer, Patrick Ginnetti, who takes over Jan. 7.
“It will be in good fiscal condition,” Kenner said.
The new engineer will start with an abundance of salt after the mild winter of 2011-12 and with no need to negotiate a new Teamsters labor contract until 2014, and likely with just over a $1 million carryover from 2012 to 2013, Kenner said.
The office has 70 employees, an annual budget of $12 million, and is responsible for maintenance and snow and ice removal on nearly 500 miles of county roads.
Kenner noted that multi-million dollar widening and repaving projects on South Avenue and Western Reserve Road have been completed in recent years.
Kenner, 53, of Boardman, said she is leaving now to avoid cutbacks in Public Employees Retirement System benefits that will take effect in January.
Ginnetti has been noncommital as to whether he wanted her to stay as chief deputy engineer after he takes office, Kenner said. The chief deputy serves at the pleasure of the elected engineer.
Ginnetti said Kenner’s statement concerning his being noncommital when they met in early July is accurate. However, he added Thursday: “When you have a hands-on, active engineer, you shouldn’t need a chief deputy. I would rather see her in a different role, rather than chief deputy, but she made the decision after that meeting to retire.”
It is “time for me to have a fresh start and for the county engineer’s office to have a fresh start,” Kenner said. However, she added that she “would like to continue working in the engineering field.”
She is one of eight finalists for road use maintenance agreement coordinator in the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office. If she gets that job, she’d be responsible for ensuring that oil and gas drillers move heavy equipment only on approved roads.
Any new position would be considered a retire-rehire situation, in which her PERS benefits would be protected, she said.
With a final annual salary of $105,518, Kenner said she expects to be compensated upon retirement for almost 960 hours of unused sick time and for some 720 hours of unused vacation and five hours of unused personal leave.
Based on a 40-hour work week, she’d leave with a total of about $85,000 in the three combined categories of unused time off.
During her time as chief deputy engineer, Kenner said her department has achieved greater productivity, discipline and accountability by initiating random, unannounced drug testing for all employees, including management; by requiring truck drivers to double as laborers; and by installing global positioning monitors in its vehicles to show which of the department’s trucks is closest to an icy bridge that needs to be salted.
“We are working more efficiently,” Kenner said.
One of her greatest disappointments, she said, was having to lay off staff in recent years due to a budget squeeze between rising fuel, asphalt and salt costs and a decline in license-plate fee and gasoline-tax revenues.
“That was absolutely horrible. There’s nothing worse than having to lay the workforce off. I didn’t think we were going to make payroll if we didn’t lay people off,” she said.
She expressed sadness when she mentioned a road maintenance crew member who died in an on-the-job accident in 2005 and a seriously ill staff member who retired on disability and later died.
Kenner acknowledged that she disagreed with Marsico’s decision to give $34,486 worth of pay raises to five professional engineers on his staff last year. “I did not think that it was correct to give raises when we had people on layoff,” she said.
However, Marsico said the professional staff had assumed additional duties that justified the reward.
Kenner said she agreed with the conversion of $35,755 worth of boot, clothing and cellular phone allowances on Jan. 1, 2011, into the hourly pay of 23 non-union employees who had received no pay raises for two years.
Kenner, who received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Youngstown State University, became Ohio’s first female chief deputy county engineer in 1989.
“She’s been a vital asset. ... I think she’ll be greatly missed,” Marsico said. “She’s always looked at what’s the right thing to do for the benefit of the residents of Mahoning County.”
Kenner managed major road construction projects, promoted water pollution control and flood control efforts, oversaw purchasing, contracting and budgeting, and served as her department’s human resource officer and chief labor negotiator.
“She took on a role that traditionally was male-dominated and has done very well,” said Kathi Vrable-Bryan, Mahoning Soil and Water Conservation District administrator, who characterized Kenner as highly intelligent and as a true friend of the natural environment.