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Political hackery is costly

Published: Sun, January 26, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Many moons ago, an idealistic (perhaps na Øve) political writer asked then Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Don L. Hanni Jr. why there were so many political hacks working at the board of elections while Youngstown State University grads were forced to leave the area to find jobs.

Hanni, in all his profane glory, glared at the writer and said, “Because I own every one of the Democrats on the payroll. They would kiss my [expletive] in the public square if I told them to.”

That, in a nutshell, is the trouble with government: There are too many positions filled by individuals with little or no qualifications, but with political connections.

Boards of elections in Ohio and throughout the country have come to represent the worst about the public sector. People hired at these boards are mostly party insiders or those with ties to political bigwigs or major campaign donors.

As Hanni, the late chairman of the Democratic Party known for his strong belief in political patronage, often put it, “To the victor belongs the spoils.”


Unfortunately, patronage also is the bane of government’s existence. Individuals who get their jobs because of who they know, and not what they know, tend to be the most incompetent. They also are bulletproof.

Boards of elections, which receive their funding from the counties’ general funds, epitomize this dilemma.

Last week’s political uproar over the decision by the four members of the board of elections — two Republicans and two Democrats — to grant a 3-percent pay raise to the workers reflects a disconnect with reality that is troubling.

After all, the four — Democrats David Betras and Robert Wasko, and Republicans Mark Munroe and Tracey Winbush — are supposed to have a different perspective from those slopping at the public trough.

So, why did they throw caution to the wind? Because Betras, the county Democratic Party chairman, and Munroe, the county Republican Party chairman, want to keep their troops happy. This year’s statewide election will require the two parties to bring out the faithful — and that’s where public employees in patronage jobs come in.

But what is ironic about the pay increase — the board rescinded it after county commissioners pitched a fit — is that almost a year ago, Director Joyce Kale-Pesta, a Democrat, sent out a searing memo to the staff that said, in effect, don’t take your jobs for granted and be professional.

Here’s one of the do’s and don’ts contained in the Kale-Pesta memo:

“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.”

Common practice

Missing employees? Some would suggest that it’s more common in government than many taxpayers from the private sector would want to believe.

Adding to the irony of last week’s pay-raise controversy is the fact that the board acted on the advice of the director. She told Betras, Wasko, Munroe and Winbush that the county commissioners were aware of the increase. They weren’t — and said so publicly and loudly.

Why? Because they were in the midst of deciding whether to place a 0.25-percent sales-tax increase before the voters in May.

Late last week, commissioners Anthony Traficanti, Carol Rimedio-Righetti and David Ditzler decided to wait until later — perhaps November — to seek approval of the 0.25-percent tax hike.

In May, voters will be asked to renew a 0.50-percent sales tax that is on the books for a five-year period at a time. The commissioners want to remove the expiration date and let the tax remain on for a continuous period.

Only the most na Øve would believe that the pay raise for the board of elections’ workers did not affect the commissioners’ decision. They could not risk having an angry electorate casting a vote on two tax issues.

There’s a cautionary tale under- lying the board of elections’ controversy that all county officials should take to heart: Giving public employees a pay boost when you’re asking taxpayers to support a tax renewal and an increase is just plain dumb.

And here’s some unsolicited advice for Kale-Persta who is raking in $73,143 a year: Don’t spin a 3-percent raise into a cost-of-living adjustment. It’s disingenuous.


1polhack(129 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Go get 'em Bertram! Maybe you can get them to reveal just what they do at the Board between elections other than look for one another during work hours. BTW, did you note Rhigetti and Traficanti said the proposed tax increase will probably be temporary, so it can be used while needed and then repealed. Ha,Ha,Ha! When has a tax ever been repealed, HaHaHa.

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2Letstryagain(218 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

I have never seen a commentator, regardless of the media platform, so obsessed with another's wage.

It is easy to write about, on the premise that any increase is a bad increase, but the readers would be served much better by a critical evaluation of the work being performed.

Is it not easier to demand better performance.

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3northsideperson(366 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

I will vote and work against any continuing tax in Youngstown or Mahoning County. Having to come back to taxpayers periodically to ask enforces some accountability - which is clearly lacking.

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4author50(1121 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Bertram, since you will have a few more columns up your sleeve on the Board of Fixxed Elections, may I suggest that you go back to 2000 and do a detailed study on how much money this board under Smith, Munroe, Winbush, Wasko, Morley and now Betras has wasted on voting machines, voting machine maintenance contracts, paper ballots, etc?

The cost is in the millions! Guess what -- neither of the aforementioned lost a penny, but the taxpayers got ' the hole in the donut' as Don Hanni used to like to say.

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5Minority_Voter(18 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Ms. Winbush what are you doing? Going along with the devil dog Betras and his racist cabal is a mistake. We must stand together united against Betras and his inside deal making!

Get on the right side of history! Stand up and tell the people about the election rigging and deal making going on before you go to jail with the rest of them.

Sister Tracey we are counting on you!

God Bless and the fight continues!

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6Roger_Thornhill(1063 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Pesta offered to resign and Munroe and Betras refused! WTF!?!?!?!?

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7republicanRick(1716 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

David Betras tolerates the incompetence because in his mind,it is not what is right or truthful that counts, it is what benefits a Democrat.

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8Silence_Dogood(1670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Bert while you are at it, why don't you ask your buddy Sammarone how many convicted felons he hired in his last year as Mayor.

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9Silence_Dogood(1670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Seriously Bert, ask the question. I would love to know if he has the courage to give you a strait answer. It would take a real investigative Journalist about an hour and a half to find out the answer without his full cooperation. All you would have to do is do a search of past Vindy stories for some of their names and misdeeds to pop up. And then you could ask the all important question as to WHY they were hired over more qualified people that have spent a lifetime staying on the strait and narrow and playing by the rules.
As Dan Rather stated , "COURAGE, COURAGE", you might find that it wont hurt and it might even grow a little integrity in that barren landscape down on Vindy Square.

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10YtownParent(1003 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

You're spot on dumbdem. All the incumbent idiots need to go. The first shot needs to be fired by defeating the continuous .50% tax. Voter need to say no more freebies. The officials need to earn it by spending it wisely and then we'll keep renewing it.

Of course the commissioners will use the old "we'll have to let people out of jail" scare tactic, but we voters need to show them we have more brains than that. Let the nonviolent offenders, the driving under suspensions, petty theives, etc. out of jail. Make them show up for day reporting work just like before the current .50% passed.

One, why should we spend tax money to keep them in jail. Make them pay for their crimes with the sweat of their brows, not the taxes that came from the sweat of us law abiding taxpayers. Two, they can help clean up the messes in this town and learn a little respect for it.

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11kurtw(1759 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Best Comment on Thread, hands down, is No: 3, Northsidededee (so good it's worth repeating):

"Bertram, you should find out how many of those employees are registered Dems vs. Repubs."

"This is what happens when you have a one-party county. City, county and township governments in Mahoning County are 100% democrat controlled. No wonder our area is in trouble."

Amen to that! That's exactly what I have been saying in many of my posts: when you hand all the power to one group of people- without competition- the possibilities of corruption are endless.

Bertram, you do your readers a disservice when you talk about the "the trouble with government" (and you bring in the head of the local Republicans- as if he counted?) as if it was a Bi-partisan Issue- all politicians the same, etc., etc- when you know as well as anybody that (as Dedee pointed out) we have a one-party system in the Mahoning Valley- The Democrat Machine (look up the History of Tammany Hall in NYC- it's all been done before)- that is corrupting and ruining us- as well well as making us look like National Anusholes.

P.S. I got that one past the Vindy Censors- I tried using the other word that we all know and cherish, but they wouldn't have it. "Anus" was OK though. A small triumph for free expression, although I still think the other word is more expressive.

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12TERRAPINST(320 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Statutorily the number of Democrats and Republicans at local Boards of Elections must be even. I do believe the IT Director at the local Board is registered Republican so they in fact may have an additional spot.

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13kurtw(1759 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

So you think, Terra, that the Mahoning Valley has a genuine Two Party System- Republicans vs. Dems- about evenly matched with swing voters deciding the issue (the Ideal State)- is that your belief?

I only wish that were the case, but we all know that it isn't- sadly for us: The Democrat Machine dominates Mahoning Valley Politics and has for as long as I can remember.

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14kurtw(1759 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

And as far as the Republicans are concerned- it's true what I said in my post- in the Mahoning Valley they just don't count- let's face it: How many elected officials in this area are Republicans? I think the last one we had was Jack Hunter and, for the life of me I can't remember his name- Congressman in Trumbull County, used to be a barber, well it'll come to me later- but that's really about it.

A couple of years ago in the Eastwood Mall I passed Republican Headquarters and decided to go in. It was all spiffed up with posters, literature, etc.- touting the virtues of the Republican Message- and the only one in there was one guy sitting at a desk - and he looked lonely to me- so I decided to cheer him up a little:

I walked up to him and I said: "You know what you remind me of?" He looked surprised and said: "No, what?"

I told him "you remind me of the Maytag Repairman- remember in the Commercial- he sat around with nothing to do..." He laughed about it and then I thanked him for what he Was doing- Keeping the Faith- and told him that I'd been voting solidly Republican since 92 when Slick Willy (Dr. Clinton?) cured me of being a Liberal Democrat.

That's about the condition of Republicans in the Mahoning Valley- the Maytag Repairmen that nobody seems to need- except, Guess What, there Is a need- something is broken- the Political system in the Mahoning Valley and what it needs is another strong party.

Let's give the "Maytag Repairmen" something to do. There is a need and they have the Fix.

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15kurtw(1759 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Lyle Williams, it just came to me!

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16kurtw(1759 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

@gdog, Ok so you found two. The judge from Poland I did not know about but I remembered Dellick when I made my comment, but I didn't list her because I don't consider her to be a true Republican- based on her record- which is about as left of center as you can get (her running of the Court).

Dellick is the kind of Pseudo-Republican the party can well do without (with friends like her, who needs an enemy?).

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17Silence_Dogood(1670 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Still waiting.

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