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Shining a light on government



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

By Todd Franko (Contact)


Here’s how some experts describe good security lighting:

Provides a clear view of an area and enables anyone to be easily seen.

Denies potential hiding spaces.

Creates the perception of being identifiable.

Enhances the public’s feeling of comfort.

Good reporting, newspapering and journalism is like good security lighting.

It shines light on things you probably need to see.

That’s what this week was about when reporter Dave Skolnick happened upon a Mahoning County Board of Elections meeting where a decision was made that resulted in an odd week for the county.

Raises were approved.

Then raises were rescinded.

A sales tax was removed from a ballot.

And a director offered to resign.

Those are just the key talking points from a meeting we hadn’t even planned to cover. Truth is, as a newspaper, we do not get to cover enough of such meetings.

We used to be able to. But the changing economics of our country and specifically the media industry make it impossible to do.

And you just wonder what is crawling around where there is not light being shone.

This week offered a snapshot of what’s crawling around Mahoning County when Board of Elections Director Joyce Kale-Pesta declared that 3 percent is hardly a pay raise. Explaining that, she offered what could be the public official warning quote of the decade.

“It’s not a raise; it’s a cost-of-living increase. Why shouldn’t I ask for a little 3 percent? I didn’t think it was out of line. I don’t see 3 percent as a raise. I consider 10 percent a raise.”

So that’s the philosophy of an official charged with spending $2 million to $3 million per year in tax dollars.

Well, of course, she has bosses, right? Two of them are party bosses Dave Betras and Mark Munroe.

Surely they have different thoughts.

No.

Said Betras in voting yes to the raises: “I don’t want the public to think we’re willy-nilly giving raises. But by the same token, you’ve got to pay people a decent wage.”

This was said of a department currently paying two people the No. 1 director salary for some inexplicable reason.

Well, Munroe will bring spending logic. He’s a Republican, right?

He voted yes, saying the department is down to 12 employees from 16 employees, which it had in 1991.

Really — down four employees in 23 years?

In 1991, that office was sniffing mimeograph paper; the fax machine was revolutionary; the “inter-net” was the mesh lining in my swim trunks.

There is more evidence of mismanagement.

Kale-Pesta said there was no issue about the raises with the commissioners. Her new budget was approved inclusive of the raises.

Skolnick learned just a little bit later that Mahoning’s three commissioners, David Ditzler, Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony Traficanti, do not want any raises due to the county’s deficit situation.

Then you have to wonder:

Who from the county bosses was truly examining the proposed budgets from departments such as the board of elections?

The circus continued:

Kale-Pesta shared outdated numbers for comparable salaries in making the pitch for the raises.

Having government staff contribute more for their pensions and health care insurance was a common response to some of the taxpayer angst a couple of years back.

Buried in much of that debate was the subsequent pay adjustments for workers to cover those increased costs. The elections staff got pay hikes to offset the county decision to no longer pick up the workers’ 10 percent portion of their state retirement contribution. Actually, workers got a smidge more — 11.2 percent, to be exact — to also cover the increased tax bracket the pay adjustments put them in.

All of this was just another day in county operations.

By Thursday, county commissioners yanked the plan for a new sales tax.

I believe them when they say they already planned to pull it even before the elections-board fiasco.

But you have to wonder how many of these episodes are out there in county operations.

Traficanti was in the news a couple of weeks back saying the new sales tax was needed due to the desperate financial predicament faced by the county.

Somehow, the elections- board situation does not seem desperate.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.


Comments

1republicanRick(1215 comments)posted 10 months ago

Excellent work by the Vindy. This is why we need the media to be our watchdogs over incompetent government.

Kale-Pesta should have resigned. And, is there ever an end to the grandstanding, totally inept David Betras.

Suggest removal:

2questionreality(323 comments)posted 10 months ago

Mr. Franko writes: 'We used to be able to. But the changing economics of our country and specifically the media industry make it impossible to do.

And you just wonder what is crawling around where there is not light being shone."

Your readers provide you with those leads by way of email or comments but it seems the paper sometimes choses to remain amorphous.

Suggest removal:

3borylie(804 comments)posted 10 months ago

Good reporting, newspapering and journalism is like good security lighting.

If this was really true at the Vindy and with print media across the country, I'd be much more optimistic about the future of our nation that is " fundamentally being changed". The greatest nation that ever existed.

Suggest removal:

4Roger_Thornhill(607 comments)posted 9 months, 4 weeks ago

How about a relatively easy request from govt:

How much in raises were given out in auditor's office in last 2 years?

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5kurtw(914 comments)posted 9 months, 3 weeks ago

What you say is correct. The only really good source of news in the Mahoning Valley is the Vindicator- Local TV news is a joke- they get most of their information from you or the Wire Services and they dress dress it up- in tiny snippets- with pretty girls and guys with gleaming teeth. When the dust settles all you remember- for the guys- are the pretty girls- and the women viewers- the guys with gleaming teeth. The News- what's that? (Radio, of course, especially 570 is a lot better- they really discuss issues).

So, the question I have- when the Vindy and other print journals finally nose dive (which, I say with regret) is coming in a few years- What then? Where do we get our information? It costs a lot of money to maintain a searchlight.

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