Two Republicans attempt to unseat commissioners Traficanti, Ditzler
By Peter H. Milliken
Two Democratic incumbent Mahoning County commissioners seeking re-election face Republican challengers in the Nov. 8 election.
Seeking a fourth term is Anthony Traficanti, who is being challenged by Adam Rutushin.
Seeking a second term is David Ditzler, whose challenger is George Levendis.
A county commissioner earns $76,976 annually.
In his three terms as a commissioner, Traficanti said he has gained valuable knowledge of, and experience in, county government, including balancing multimillion-dollar budgets in volatile financial times, working with the criminal justice system, and handling labor negotiations and employee relations matters.
His priorities are completion of the county courthouse restoration project, construction of the new county dog shelter, upgrading the county’s 911 emergency dispatching system and using the Western Reserve Port Authority to promote economic development.
He also said a priority for him is to continue to aggressively lobby the state and federal governments to reduce the burden imposed by funding cuts and unfunded mandates.
Traficanti lists among his accomplishments passing county sales taxes, getting the county jail fully open, achieving an AA stable Standard & Poors rating for county debt, and combining the county mental health and alcohol and drug addiction services boards.
Traficanti’s challenger, Adam Rutushin, said his experience in managing a staff of 45 as St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital pharmacy operations manager and his experience as owner and manager of 60 apartments in Youngstown and Mineral Ridge have prepared him well to be a commissioner.
Rutushin espouses a philosophy of less government, lower taxes and reduced spending and doing more to help small businesses.
Rutushin is critical of the county’s decision to buy Oakhill Renaissance Place to house county offices and of the lack of planning for its future.
Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
“Oakhill is just a prime example of a bad decision. I don’t think it was very well thought out,” Rutushin said.
“It’s not even half-filled, and it’s decreasing in occupancy,” when the city health department moves next year from Oakhill to the City Hall Annex, he said. “They already spent $15 million in the process” of acquiring and renovating Oakhill, he said of county officials.
Traficanti, however, defended his support for the county’s 2006 purchase of Oakhill, saying it was a wise decision that created a one-stop shop of county offices and let the county escape from a costly leasing arrangement for its Department of Job and Family Services offices.
“To me, it’s a perfect campus setting. There’s 11 acres,” at Oakhill, he said.
Traficanti acknowledged a plan needs to be developed for Oakhill’s future.
Rutushin was also critical of the hiring by the commissioners of Evergreen Solutions LLC of Tallahassee, Fla., to conduct a $65,000 study of county employees’ pay compared to that of their peers doing similar work in governments of similar-sized counties.
The study is unnecessary because the comparison information is already readily available, Rutushin said.
“The study was not done to give people pay raises. That is for certain,” Traficanti said. However, he added, “There have to be some guidelines. ... What we need is an across-the-board comparison” to achieve internal equity in county positions, duties and pay scales, he said.
The study results are expected early next year.
Ditzler said his qualifications include more than 25 years of private-sector sales management and nearly 25 years of combined public-sector experience as an Austintown trustee and commissioner.
Ditzler said he has balanced large budgets, passed all state audits and successfully handled challenging matters, including labor negotiations, regionalization, consolidation, economic development, senior services and public safety.
He also said he has worked cooperatively with his colleagues on the three-member boards of Austintown trustees and county commissioners.
Ditzler listed among his accomplishments the use of racino tax dollars to pave roads in Austintown, the absorption of Youngstown building inspections into the county building inspection department, the reorganization of the Western Reserve Port Authority board, the merger of the county mental health and alcohol and drug addiction services boards, and the county’s participation in the state’s OhioCheckbook.com government transparency initiative.
“I’m probably the most conservative of the bunch [of county commissioners]. I look at it from more of a business standpoint. I try to take everybody into consideration. I’m representing 240,000 taxpayers, not 1,500 employees” of the county, Ditzler said.
Ditzler’s opponent, George Levendis, also cites his accomplishments in private business and public service.
As a bridge-painting superintendent for APBN Inc. of Campbell since 2003, Levendis said he ensures successful completion of large projects.
“I manage multi-multimillion-dollar projects on a daily basis. I have never not completed a project on time since I’ve been a project superintendent,” he said.
While he has been Campbell City Council president for the past five years, he said that city has gone from state-mandated fiscal emergency to fiscal soundness with a monetary surplus.
Levendis said he wants to “start the rebuilding process that will return Mahoning County to the economic powerhouse it was and can be once again.”
His goals include reducing the cost of county government, enhancing local quality of life, retaining the Mahoning Valley’s population, finding more funding to address urban blight and helping law enforcement battle the drug-abuse epidemic.
Levendis has been endorsed by District Council 6 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.