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Elections staff gets smacked

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Joyce Kale-Pesta, director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, is the ultimate political insider. She got on the public payroll because of Democratic Party politics, rose through the ranks because of her political connections and now heads the county’s elections office as a reward for her many years of service to the party.

No, this isn’t a rant against one public employee, or a criticism of the Mahoning County Board of Elections office. Such boards are, by their very nature, political. Democrats and Republicans have equal say in what goes on. The four-member board consists of two Republicans and two Democrats. They appoint the employees, with an equal number coming from each party. They also appoint the director and deputy director. If the board’s chairman is a Republican, the director will be a Democrat, and vice versa.

Thus, Kale-Pesta is director because Republican Mark Munroe chairs the board. The assistant director is Republican Thomas McCabe.

And because boards of elections throughout the state are such political entities, the rules that govern their operations tend to be much more relaxed than those that govern other public workplaces, and certainly the private sector.

There’s a reason for this: the people who work at the boards of elections tend to be party insiders or those with connections to political bigwigs or major campaign donors. In other words, it’s not what you know, but whom you know.


With that background, imagine this writer’s surprise when he received a copy of a memo sent by Director Kale-Pesta to the staff.

It was dated Jan. 29 and said:

“For the last several weeks I have noticed many things that should not be happening in this office — so I think it’s time for review.

“1. There are two breaks per day — one in the morning/one in the afternoon.

(If you smoke — you only smoke at one of these breaks or at lunch)

“2. Lunch is 1 hour — not 1.5 or 2 hours — so EVERYONE will sign out for lunch if you leave the office.

“3. If you leave the office for any reason other than Board Business you are to sign out and sign back in upon return. If it is found that you did not sign out you will be written up. Being on company time for personal business is a risk to the board. If you are going on Board business use the board by the exit for notations of where you will be.

“4. If you are away from your desk for more than 15 minutes and I cannot find you or do not know where you are — you will be written up. I will NO LONGER search this office or building for missing employees.

“5. Work areas should be kept neat and orderly.

“These bad practices acted upon by a few are not fair to the employees who sit at their stations and do their work. It creates an adverse working environment.

“I am in the process of reviewing job assignments and will be making and adding new job descriptions by certain employees duties.”

What a difference in attitude.

Three years ago, Kale-Pesta, who was the deputy director, and Mc- Cabe, the director, were pilloried in this space because of a major foul-up by a member of the staff.

Danielle O’Neill had failed to send to the county commissioners the ballot language for the half-percent sales tax renewal that was prepared by the Ohio secretary of state. Because of the failure, voters had no indication that it was not a new tax.

Although O’Neill was punished, this writer argued that McCabe and Kale-Pesta were ultimately responsible because the staff member’s failure to do her job was a reflection of their supervisory abilities — or lack thereof.

The freewheeling style that has been the trademark of past directors and past boards of election is no longer acceptable to the taxpayers, who are demanding a full day’s work from public employees.

As Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone has said, in installing fingerprint recognition time clocks and GPS monitors in all city vehicles, workers who don’t put in eight hours a day are “stealing time” from the taxpayers.

Kale-Pesta’s memo to the staff is a recognition that times have changed. Political patronage no longer means working occasionally.