Published: Thursday, August 3, 2006
Letters prompt hiring concerns
A commissioner said he secured the letters at the request of a prosecutor.
By ED RUNYAN
WARREN Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel says letters from the desk of resigned Administrator Tony Carson Jr. renew his concern about the commissioners' office exerting undue influence on hiring decisions.
While inventorying Carson's desk after Carson quit a week ago, Heltzel said he found about a dozen letters asking the commissioners' office for help in getting jobs. Most appeared to be written to Carson.
An assistant prosecutor, Jason Earnhart, advised Heltzel to secure the letters, "which I did," Heltzel explained. The letters are at his private law office and will be reproduced for the prosecutor's office, the commissioner said.
"I told him they were public records, and they couldn't be destroyed if they were county business documents," Earnhart said. "It's a tremendous, enormous leap of faith to insinuate or use the word 'criminal' in this at all at this time. Any evidence that is received by Prosecutor [Dennis] Watkins will be referred to the proper investigatory unit. ... "
Two folders in Carson's desk were labeled for Commissioners James Tsagaris and Dan Polivka, Heltzel continued.
"In some of them there's letters that say, 'Here's my résumé, Dan asked me to send it in,' and that's it. It may all be very innocent and that's all that's happened. But when you compare that to what you know has happened [in past examples], that's what goes on," he said.
Heltzel said there's nothing wrong with people asking for help in landing a county job, but he feels it's indicative of a bigger problem: In some cases, he said, Carson, Tsagaris and Polivka used their position to influence hiring decisions by talking directly to department heads and exerting their influence.
Heltzel asked whether the county's organizational structure allowed Carson supervisory powers over department heads. Heltzel learned from the prosecutor's office that the administrator does have such authority.
"What's happened is and what I have a problem with is where a department head is directed to hire a person. I think that's wrong," Heltzel said.
Heltzel didn't give a specific example of Carson's helping people get jobs but said, "Tony's the enforcer."
Carson, vacationing in Georgia, could not be reached and several county officials and staff said they had no phone number to reach him.
Heltzel said he feels hiring decisions should be made by the county's personnel department and the department heads.
Tom Mahoney, Child Support Enforcement Agency director, said there have been instances over the years in which "people have used outside influences to get a commissioner to increase salaries. That did happen and it did make me very angry, and the commissioners should address that."
Heltzel did give examples of job interventions by Tsagaris and Polivka.
Early this year, Tsagaris told Mahoney to meet with the father of an employee in the CSEA who sought a promotion. Mahoney, who oversees the CSEA, met with the family member, Heltzel said.
Heltzel said he found out and called another meeting: This time it included James Keating, the county's personnel director; the employee; former CSEA director Christina Campbell; and Mahoney. In the end, the employee received a promotion but not the one he wanted, Heltzel said.
"When I reach over Mahoney, when I reach over personnel [department], that's a problem," Heltzel said.
"Everybody there knows how that guy got there, how he got promoted," Heltzel said of the CSEA employee. "The effect it has on the staff is that they don't want to work."
Employees who feel cheated by the promotion and hiring system become less productive workers, he said.
Tsagaris said he did not recall the episode.
Asked if he thought there's undue influence on hiring from the commissioners' office, Tsagaris said: "They all do that. From the city council to the prosecutor's office. How do you think Paul Heltzel got his job in the prosecutor's office?"
Heltzel was once an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor. He got an internship there in the early 1980s while attending Notre Dame after long-time Democratic Party Chairman Dr. William Timmins said Heltzel should meet with then-Prosecutor J. Walter Dragelevich. Heltzel's father was married to Timmins' sister. Dennis Watkins, later elected prosecutor, named Heltzel to head the civil division.
Asked about the CSEA employee episode, Mahoney confirmed Heltzel's account. But he added, "The commissioners have, for the most part, provided candidates who met the minimum qualifications."
Around the beginning of the year, hiring policies for all departments changed at Heltzel's request, Mahoney and Heltzel said. Instead of résumés coming from various sources, they all go through the personnel department now, Mahoney said. This has made the hiring process "more centralized and open." He said the system has "improved drastically."
Regarding Polivka, Heltzel said he found the situation surrounding Polivka's mother, Donna, being hired by the county last year to work at JFS "outrageous" and said Polivka is fortunate he was never charged with a crime for his involvement.
Though Polivka denied influencing Mahoney, and Mahoney denied having been influenced by Polivka, Heltzel said he believes otherwise. Donna Polivka eventually resigned.
Asked Wednesday about his mother's hiring, Polivka responded: "We want to make sure people are qualified. I learned in the construction business if you have qualified people around you, it lessens your headaches."
As to whether there is a problem with undue influence in the commissioners' office, Polivka said, "I don't know. I send people to Human Resources to put in applications. I just send them to Keating or the appropriate agency."
Heltzel said he regularly checks with Keating on various hirings to see whether the hiring process was open to more than just one person.
At times, Heltzel also has followed up by asking Mahoney about such hirings during commissioners' meetings. On May 10, Heltzel asked Mahoney about a hiring in the CSEA, and Mahoney said a woman was the only person interviewed because, "Commissioners wanted to see her get the position."
Heltzel said he believes the influence problem is prevalent within JFS and CSEA because they are large and have a lot of turnover, but the problem has come up in other county departments, such as sanitary engineer's and maintenance.
Heltzel added that he doesn't know what type of system can be put in place to insulate department heads from hiring pressures, but he hopes to come up with something.