With friends like the employ- ees of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, commissioners Anthony T. Traficanti, Carol Rimedio-Righetti and David Ditzler don’t need enemies — in their quest to win voter approval for renewal of a 0.50-percent sales tax for a continuous period.
The commissioners emerged relatively unscathed from public hearings on their plans to place the tax renewal and a 0.25-percent increase on the May 6 primary election ballot. But, last week’s inexplicable decision by the four-member board of elections to approve — and then disapprove — a 3-percent pay raise for the employees could well be a game changer in the public’s mind.
Indeed, it already has affected the commissioners’ view of things. On Thursday, Traficanti, Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler decided not to place the increase on the May ballot. They can now focus on the challenge of convincing private-sector taxpayers in the county, who are well aware that most of county government’s operating budget is dedicated to wages and benefits, that what Mark Munroe, Tracey Winbush, David Betras and Robert Wasko of the elections board did in initially approving the raise was irresponsible and does not reflect their view of employee compensation.
It doesn’t matter that the board members were acting on erroneous information with regard to the 3-percent raises. The fact remains that Republicans Munroe (the chairman) and Winbush, and Democrats Betras (the vice chairman) and Wasko did not instinctively tell Director Joyce Kale-Pesta that a pay increase was a non-starter. Munroe is chairman of the county Republican Party; Betras is chairman of the county Democratic Party.
What part of “anemic economic recovery” do those four individuals — or any public employee for that matter — not understand? Are they so removed from reality that they are unable to comprehend how difficult it is not only to find work in this area, but to hold on to a job?
The idea that public employees need to be rewarded for their work, as Betras suggested in justifying the pay increase, would be laughable, were it not so foolish.
As we have noted in this space many times, public-sector employment since the Great Recession of 2008 has been a boon for those lucky enough to have this largess.
VINDICATOR FORCED THE ISSUE
Members of the board of elections do not deserve accolades for disapproving the 3-percent raise just hours after they had approved it.
Their backtracking was forced by Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick, who began asking questions of the commissioners after Tuesday’s meeting of the elections board.
It soon became clear they weren’t going to stand for any county department or agency boosting wages in the midst of the campaign to sell the 0.25-percent and 0.50-percent sales-tax issues to the residents of Mahoning County.
The message from Traficanti et al to Munroe et al was loud and clear: Cease and desist.
It’s a message that every department head should take to heart — as we have advised in the last couple of months.
If a case is to be made for renewing the sales tax on the books for an indefinite period (it now has a five-year shelf life before it must be presented to the voters for renewal), the commissioners should be given the opportunity to do so without unnecessary distractions.
Granting pay raises to public employees in the midst of an anticipated general fund shortfall is not only a distraction, it’s arrogant. It says to private-sector taxpayers struggling to make ends meet that their economic well-being is less important than that of public employees.
In light of last week’s flare-up, Traficanti, Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler should consider appointing a committee of business and community leaders to drive the campaign.