Trumbull administrator must now prove his worth

Despite the misgivings of this newspaper and many others, the hiring of Mike Matas as Trumbull County government’s first administrator in 12 years is now a fait accompli. As such, it is incumbent upon Matas and other Trumbull officeholders to prove to the county’s 205,000 residents that the hiring will produce tangible improvements to county services and operations.

Our misgivings about the hiring stem from the foul odor that has developed by having Matas, currently Lake County budget director and chairman of last year’s productive Trumbull County Budget Review Commission, placed in the position he himself advocated be created.

As we argued last December when his name first surfaced as a candidate for the post, “We see a conflict of interest. ...This is not about qualifications for the job. It’s about the public perception of insider trading.”

But now that Trumbull County commissioners Daniel Polivka and Mauro Cantalamessa voted to approve the hiring (Commissioner Frank Fuda voted no), Matas must work doubly hard to prove wrong the critics of his appointment to the job that comes complete with a lavish $95,000 salary plus benefits.

To his advantage in that challenge, he does have detailed experience in county financial management by viture of his work in Lake County. But more importantly, he has the intimate knowledge of Trumbull County’s financial predicaments gleaned from his leadership on the commission last year.

Indeed, we praised the work of that 12-member citizens advisory panel that spent a good chunk of the first half of 2017 studying county finances inside out before drafting 19 credible recommendations to improve county government’s overall efficiency and budgetary oversight. We embraced those recommendations and urged the county commissioners to expeditiously work to implement them.

Therefore the first order of business for Trumbull County’s new chief executive officer must be to work feverishly to transform the commission’s cost-saving proposals into day-to-day operational realities. After all, there are no true signs that the longstanding trends of declining local tax revenues and shrinking support from state and federal governments will end anytime soon.

Among some of the most pressing reforms we hope to see addressed expeditiously include:

Ending the common practice among county employees of getting paid for 40-hour work weeks but working only about 32.5 of those hours. Most private-sector workers would find that lenient work schedule unbelievable in this age of downsizing and multitasking.

Eliminating taxpayer contributions to the employee portions of the retirement plan. Currently, the collective-bargaining agreements require Trumbull County to pay up to 90 percent of the employee’s portion of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System as well as 100 percent of the employer’s portion.

Ending the practice of cashing in unused sick time and vacation days for county workers. That practice cost county taxpayers more than $1 million annually. It’s that kind of unearned compensation that private-sector taxpayers find unfathomable and that contributes greatly to the public’s overall distrust of government.

To be sure, none of those and other tasks will be a cakewalk to accomplish. The adversarial forces of public-sector unions are certain to fight many of them tooth and nail.

But only through bold and decisive leadership can the county hope to right its fiscal ship for the long haul. Toward that goal, county commissioners have vowed to keep a close watch over the administrator and his actions during his first year in office. Specific goals will be established and comprehensive performance evaluations of his work will be completed.

We, like many others, will expect nothing short of complete transparency and accountability.

At the very least, Matas must prove that his ascension to the post will result in overall cost benefits and service improvements. Specifically, that means he must work assiduously to save Trumbull coffers far more than the cost of his $95,000 salary.

Then and only then will the air be fully cleared of any lingering stench rising from perceived conflicts of interest and insider shenanigans surrounding the appointment.

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