Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Given the black cloud of public corruption that has hovered over Mahoning County government for the past several years, it’s natural for residents to be attracted to the idea of change.
But change for change’s sake isn’t how decisions ought to be made about who should govern us.
County government with its $180 million overall budget is similar to a major corporation, but with one very significant difference: Its product is service to the people who finance it.
Thus, in judging the performance of any county official, the question that must be asked is this: How well is he or she serving the public?
In the case of commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ditzler, who are seeking re-election this year, the answer to the question is “quite well” – considering the economic challenges confronting county government.
Traficanti is seeking a fourth, four-year term, while Ditzler is going for a second term in the November general election. Both are Democrats and have Republican opposition: Traficanti is challenged by Adam Rutushin, a retired pharmacist; Ditzler by George Levendis, a commercial painter and president of Campbell City Council.
While we applaud the challengers for caring enough about the county to put themselves out front so the incumbents are forced to defend their records, we find that Traficanti and Ditzler have a deep understanding of the role of government in dealing with the myriad problems that governments at all levels must confront.
By any measure, the most important issue that Traficanti, Ditzler and their colleague, Carol Rimedio-Righetti, must continually address is the fiscal health of Mahoning County.
Indeed, both Levendis and Rutushin cite management of the county’s budget as a top priority in the election.
Unfortunately, both Republican candidates admitted they had not analyzed the budget so as to draw any conclusions about revenues and expenditures. They simply say that a different approach is needed.
When we received the completed Vindicator candidate questionnaires from the challengers, we were anticipating a fact-filled discussion about the budget when we interviewed them.
In reply to the question “What is your top priority if elected?” Levendis wrote: “To reduce the cost of county government.” Rutushin answered, “To modernize, we must upgrade to the best practices and cost justify everything.”
However, neither candidate was able to provide specifics about the budget and what cuts they would make.
We have long argued that if you are going to run on the issue of fiscal responsibility, you have an obligation to the voters to have a more than cursory knowledge of the budget.
Traficanti and Ditzler, on the other hand, not only have intimate knowledge of county government’s operation, but also have demonstrated a willingness to make the tough decisions with regard to expenditure of public dollars.
The passage of the sales-tax increase dedicated to criminal justice and approval of a senior citizens levy are evidence of the public’s trust in the commissioners.
Our support of Traficanti and Ditzler is bolstered by the fact that they have pledged that the payroll study now being conducted by a private company will not result in pay raises for county employees. Rather, the findings will be used to equalize the wages of employees within specific categories, such as secretaries.
We have expressed our opposition to the study including a comparison of county employees’ compensation with that of their peers in other counties. We fail to see any merit in it.
That said, Mahoning County is facing some major financial hurdles, such as the loss of $3 million in sales tax revenue from Medicaid-managed care organizations. To overcome them, government needs stability and a steady hand on the wheel.
The incumbents will provide the guidance that county employees require – now more than ever.
The Vindicator endorses Traficanti and Ditzler for re-election confident that they will continue to offer the level of public service residents have a right to expect.