Betras’ role in hiring of new Board of Elections leader clarified
YOUNGSTOWN — The Ohio Ethics Commission has defined how actively attorney David Betras, Mahoning County Board of Elections vice chairman, can be involved in hiring an elections deputy director.
Betras sent a letter to the commission asking if he was permitted to review an application, interview and vote to hire Melissa Wasko, a former client and the wife of Bob Wasko, who retired Tuesday as a board member.
In response, Christopher Woeste, the commission’s staff advisory attorney, wrote that Betras can’t participate in the screening and hiring process of a board deputy director if that person is currently a client of his.
The letter states, however: “You are permitted to participate in the hiring process for your former client as long as there is no current, ongoing or anticipated attorney-client relationship and there are no unresolved or pending legal, financial or other business-related issues between you and your former client.”
Woeste added that it would violate the state’s conflict of interest law for “a public official, who is also a private attorney, from voting, taking part in discussions or deliberations or otherwise participating, formally or informally, in the consideration of matters pending before his public agency if the employee or someone in his firm is representing a client or has provided consultation and advice to a client on the matter.”
A board of elections member is a public official, Woeste wrote.
Betras said: “I knew the answer, but I wanted to have it in writing.
“I want to immunize myself from stepping on a land mine. I’ve been practicing for 36 years. I can’t remember every client’s name. If it’s a current client (who applies) then I can’t participate and vote. If it’s a former client I can. I don’t know who will apply.”
Melissa Wasko, an administrator with the county Department of Job and Family Services, plans to apply for the job, Betras said.
She was Betras’ client for a few months starting in June 2020, but he doesn’t currently represent her.
Betras and Joyce Kale-Pesta, who retired Tuesday as director and is joining the board as a member to replace Bob Wasko, will recommend who the board should hire as deputy director. They’re all Democrats.
The deadline to apply is Dec. 17. Kale-Pesta expects a deputy director to be named by Jan. 1.
State law requires the deputy director, if one is hired, of a county board of elections to be from the opposing party of the director.
With Kale-Pesta’s retirement, Republican Thomas McCabe, the former deputy director, is now the director.
The annual salary for the director and deputy director jobs is $81,200.
The person recommended for deputy director by Kale-Pesta and Betras would need at least one vote from the two Republicans on the board of elections: Sandra Barger and Bob Aurandt.
Betras sought to have the board last week reward Kale-Pesta’s 35 years as an employee there by paying her for all 1,221 1/2 hours of unused sick time, but no one else on the board supported the proposal.
Kale-Pesta said she “would have appreciated a little more respect than I was given. I’m saddened. It’s very hurtful.”
The sick time payout to Kale-Pesta at the full amount would have been $47,685.48. A request from Betras to pay her half of the amount also was denied.
Instead, the board agreed to pay her for 240 hours, which is the maximum payment of unused sick time under the county policy. That is a $9,367.20 payment.
Betras said the board of elections could make a decision based on a case-by-case basis and did so back in 1999 when it gave about $130,000 in a severance payout to James Dellick, who retired then as director.
The board also agreed to pay $27,047.79 to Kale-Pesta for unused vacation, accrued and personal time, which is permitted under the county policy.