In a surprising turn of events Friday, The Vindicator in this space urged newly hired Trumbull County Administrator Michael Matas to work diligently to prove his value to county government. Later yesterday, we learned of news that Matas had changed his mind about taking the $95,000 position after all, preferring to stay put in his current $99,000 job of budget director of Lake County near Cleveland.
At press time for Friday’s editions, we were unaware of a short email that Matas had shot off Thursday to Trumbull County commissioners Daniel Polivka, Mauro Cantalamessa and Frank Fuda.
In it, the former chairman of the Trumbull County Budget Review Commission, which recommended re-establishing the administrator position last year, did not offer many details into his sudden change of heart:
“Thank you for your consideration and the opportunity you offered. As discussed, I am formally submitting my resignation, effective immediately, due to a family matter,” his email reportedly said.
Matas, who was officially hired last week in a divided 2-1 vote, was slated to take the reins of his new position March 19.
In the whirlwind aftermath of this chain of events, Trumbull County commissioners are back to Square One in their search for a chief executive officer for county government operations.
We believe, however, that spot is not a particularly bad place to be. Given the controversy centering on a potential conflict of interest of Matas’ appointment, debate over whether a chief administrative officer is truly needed and whether the county could realistically afford the near six-figure salary it commands, the sudden opening now allows the county to regroup and reassess.
It should do just that.
STEP BACK, TAKE TIME
The knee-jerk reaction, of course, would be for the hiring committee to reconvene and decide whether to hire one of the former applicants, including second-place finisher Larry Collins of Saline, Mich., former assistant city administrator for Ann Arbor, Mich., or to reopen the search locally or nationwide.
Before taking that step, we’d recommend the county take an additional step backward to determine whether the administrator position and its high cost are truly needed. After all, the county has lived without an administrator for 12 years and many larger counties, including adjacent Mahoning County, operate easily without one.
In addition, since the call for applicants went out last year for the job, new details have emerged that have many wondering how the position and its added cost burden can be rationally justified.
Commissioner Fuda, who was the sole dissenting vote against Matas’ appointment, argues the county cannot afford the position, particularly since he cites that three county managers already fulfill the majority of the duties of an administrator.
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 county human-resources director who assists commissioners with other matters and who also initially applied for the full-time executive post.
Perhaps one option county leaders could consider is restructuring some of their duties to better match their vision of an administrator’s responsibilities.
Another option, of course, would be to maintain the status quo. As we said Friday, there is very little light at the end of Trumbull County’s dark financial tunnel with tax revenues continually falling and many fixed costs continually rising.
We’d also urge county leaders to conduct public hearings, at which taxpayers can offer their views on the necessity of the administrator position. After all, they will be the ones ultimately footing the bill for the bureaucrat’s lavish salary and benefits package.
In the long run, the resignation of Matas to the job he had yet to assume should be viewed not as a burden but rather as an opportunity. It is an opportunity for county leaders to further weigh the pros and cons of such a hiring and to get maximum input into a decision that could affect county operations, services and finances for years and decades to come.