Local officials under pressure to deal with pothole epidemic
It’s no accident (the use of this word is intentional) that residents of Mahoning County have not criticized county Engineer Patrick Ginnetti and Sheriff Jerry Greene for taking the initiative in responding to a major crisis in our communities: the invasion of the potholes.
It is almost impossible to keep to your lane when driving on some roads, and it’s a major accomplishment if you’ve avoided a visit to your tire store or your mechanic.
Residents are demanding action from their local governments to eliminate this public hazard. That’s exactly what the engineer and sheriff have done.
But before we comment on the initiative, it’s important to point out that there isn’t enough money in any of the public treasuries for the street (road) departments to hire all the workers needed to address the pothole problem.
Indeed, the length and severity of the winter storms have all but depleted many of the street-department budgets. And, crews have been working such long hours that at least one foreman has acknowledged having difficulty in getting workers to come out on extra overtime.
Yes, it has been the perfect storm.
Against that backdrop, Engineer Ginnetti and Sheriff Greene agreed on the use of day-reporting (non-incarcerated) inmates to pick up the pothole-filling slack. The operative words are pick up the slack. The inmates are not being used instead of the unionized street department workers and are not depriving them of overtime work.
Nonetheless, Teamsters Local 377, which represents the engineer’s road maintenance staff, has filed a grievance concerning the use of inmates for free labor. At the heart of the complaint is the Teamsters’ contention that Ginnetti did not discuss in advance use of the inmates.
Union officials may have a reason to complain about not being consulted, but we would hope they don’t lose sight of the big picture.
The taxpayers of the county — by extension, the employers of public-sector workers — aren’t interested in the nuances of the labor agreements. They just want the potholes filled.
It is noteworthy that all three commissioners, David Ditzler, the chairman, Anthony Traficanti and Carol Rimedio-Righetti, endorsed the use of day-reporting inmates because they have been hearing the complaints from their constituents.
“I think it’ll be worked out,” Ditzler said of the flap involving the engineer and Teamsters Local 377. He rightly pointed out that the engineer’s office uses paid summer workers to cut grass.
If there is no agreement, however, the issue will go to arbitration.
The driving public knows that things are going to get worse before they get better. As the weather changes and temperatures rise, the permafrost will begin to melt. That will cause even greater deterioration of the asphalt. Today’s potholes could become tomorrow’s cave-ins.
If the current problems are any indication, local governments are going to need a lot of people working a lot of hours to deal with this epidemic. And, they don’t have the money to hire full-time employees.
Ginnetti and Greene are to be commended for doing what taxpayers have long demanded: Putting certain inmates to work so they’re actually paying their debt to society.
We urge the commissioners to continue supporting the engineer and sheriff and to solicit the public’s support for the inmate-work program. That shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge.