What part of ‘public property’ is so difficult to comprehend?

The $400 in private calls and text messages racked up by a Youngstown city government laborer isn’t just about a public employee’s lack of common sense. Jim Clacko’s personal use of a city-owned cell phone reflects a mindset that is more common among individuals on the public payroll than private-sector taxpayers might think.

During this past election, one of the issues in the Poland Township trustees race was the suspension of three road department employees — without pay — for personal use and unauthorized disposal of township property. One of the three workers had been on the township government’s payroll for 27 years.

In Canfield Township, the zoning inspector was suspended by the trustees without pay for allegedly using his work computer for personal reasons.

From June 12 through July 11, trustees placed a program on the zoning inspector’s computer to monitor what he was doing and to determine if his claims for needing more help were justified. What they found, according to the official record of the investigation, is that he was regularly using the computer for nongovernment reasons.

He is fighting the action taken against him by the trustees.

Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated incidents involving public employees and the misuse of public property. The Vindicator’s archives are replete with stories about governments throughout the Mahoning Valley having to deal with individuals on the payroll who reflect a cavalier attitude about property that rightfully belongs to the taxpayers.

In Youngstown, Mayor Charles Sammarone, reacting to the Clacko case, came across as a technological dinosaur when he said, “Cellphones and computers are the lazy man’s way of communicating. All we need are cheap [cell] phones and cheap plans. I’ve got a basic phone, and it serves me fine.”

We aren’t willing to accompany the mayor on his journey back in time, but we do agree with him that city employees do not need cellphones and computers with all the bells and whistles.

The mayor, along with Law Director Anthony Farris and the city’s purchasing agent, Carol Peters, are reviewing the current cellphone policy to make changes to improve it.

Though we agree that written policies are a necessity given the union protection enjoyed by public employees, we wonder why it is necessary to spell out what workers can and cannot do with public property.

Clacko will receive an unpaid two-day suspension for several job-performance issues.

The abuse of public positions isn’t a new phenomenon in governments in Youngstown and other communities.

In 1999, then Mayor George M. McKelvey issued an order prohibiting the use of city telephones for noncity calls.

McKelvey also reduced the number of government vehicles assigned to certain officials after then city Water Commissioner Gary Thornton was disciplined for abusing the use of the city-owned car.

Travel to Mountaineer

Thornton was shown to have driven it to Mountaineer race track in West Virginia.

It’s remarkable how often public employees are found to conduct themselves in a manner that defies explanation.

In the case of Clacko, who has reimbursed the city for the personal use of the public cellphone, the failure of his supervisor to give him a written policy on the use of the city-owned cellphone came into play.

We guess when you get a public-sector job, you are required to leave your common sense at the door.

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