It should come as no surprise to regular readers of The Vindicator’s editorials that our support for the citizens budget review committee in Trumbull County has been steadfast. It reflects our long-held belief that governments at all levels can benefit from outside scrutiny.
Indeed, we have urged Trumbull County commissioners to adopt the 19 recommendations made by the budget review panel because we’ve been impressed with the way the 12 members have gone about their business.
Thus, you can imagine our disappointment when we read last week that one of the main recommendations is now steeped in controversy.
At issue is the possible hiring of a county administrator to assist commissioners Dan Polivka, Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa.
It has been 11 years since county government had an administrator, so it would stand to reason that Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa would be of one mind with regard to filling the position.
On Wednesday, Fuda threw a monkey wrench in the works when he pointed out that three employees now serve as what he called “part-time county administrators.” The commissioner wondered how government would save money by hiring a full-time administrator while keeping Paulette Godfrey, Jim Misocky and Richard Jackson on the payroll.
Godfrey is commissioners clerk and interim county administrator; Misocky, a lawyer, is projects manager; Jackson is the recently hired county human-resources director who assists commissioners with other matters.
Reacting to Fuda’s concerns, Polivka, chairman of the Trumbull County Democratic Party, said that none of the three is an administrator.
Fuda has raised an important point that should be addressed by the budget review committee.
Unfortunately, the panel’s credibility has suffered on this issue because one of the applicants for the administrator’s job is Mike Matas, chairman of the group.
Matas of Cortland is Lake County’s budget director.
Commissioner Polivka, who submitted Matas’ name as one of his choices to serve on the budget review committee, said he does not see a problem with Matas applying for the job while serving on the panel.
Therein lies the disconnect between the public and private sectors. We see a conflict of interest with Matas’ leading role in a committee that is recommending the hiring of an administrator and his applying for the job.
This is not about qualifications for the job. It’s about public perception of insider trading.
As chairman, he should have made known his desire to serve as administrator and then abstained from any discussion about the position.
But Polivka is undaunted by the controversy.
“We don’t even know if we’ll be able to get him because they pay him close to $100,000 in Lake County,” he said.
Instead of expressing regret, the commissioner should have voiced concern about the optics of the perceived conflict.
But, Matas isn’t the only one with a problem.
Jackson, the human-resources director assigned by the commissioners to advertise the job of county administrator and collect the resumes, has applied for the position.
Cantalamessa headed a committee that hired Jackson as HR director. The committee was formed after Fuda voiced concerns in the summer of 2016 about what he considered improper influence from commissioners in the hiring process.
Polivka made it clear he does not believe Jackson is qualified to be administrator.
“We hired an HR director,” he said.
For his part, Jackson said a discussion about qualifications is premature.
“We have not had the opportunity as of yet to even review all of the resumes,” he said.
When Cantalamessa asked him why he didn’t inform the commissioner he was applying for the administrator’s job, Jackson said he did not want any special favors.
But the reality is that the human- resources director is involved in reviewing the applications.
It is clear that the hiring process has been tainted and if either Matas or Jackson is hired, the public will cry foul.
Therefore, the commissioners should place a hold on the search for an administrator and bring in an independent entity to take control of the process.
Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa should seek guidance from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
There’s no reason to rush, given that Trumbull County government has been without an administrator since 2006.
As Fuda noted, there are three individuals on the public payroll who are filling the gap adequately.