Three vie for Polivka’s seat

WARREN – The incumbent Democrat Trumbull County commissioner and party chairman is getting opposition from two directions as he tries to get elected to a fourth term on Nov. 8.

Daniel J. Polivka touts his experience and abilities to save money and getting things done as he faces Republican Mary Williams of Cortland and write-in candidate Todd Johnson.

“I vow to voters to continue to put Trumbull County first,” Polivka said in a recent interview at the Tribune Chronicle.

Meanwhile, Williams told the Tribune Chronicle she is a civic-minded person who can be very vocal in fighting for something that works, whether it is a parent’s concern or voting against a new superintendent contract like she has done as a Lakeview Board of Education member since 2009.

“I am always looking for something better,” Williams said. “I am known as a board bulldog.”

Johnson, 34, is a newcomer to Trumbull County politics and a late entry to this race. Johnson decided in late August to challenge the party candidates by announcing his intention to run as a write-in. The decision cost him his job that he held for 10 years at the Ohio Means Jobs office inside the county Job and Family Service building on North Park Avenue.

“I was not satisfied with the options presented to us,” Johnson, who became pastor of Warren Second Baptist Church in September 2015, said about the candidates in this commissioner race.

“I am uniquely qualified to engage young students, workers and leaders to bring new ideas to the table and ensure a trained and prepared work force that will attract 21st century companies to Trumbull County.”

Johnson said he believes there is a need for change and he believed the time was right when he was asked by a group of concerned citizens to run.

“I felt the time was right and after much prayer, I decided I was that new voice that people need to hear,” he said.

Polivka, 53, who ran his own contracting company, said he is proud of his fiscally responsible record.

“I learned to be tight-fisted. It is in my culture to negotiate everything. I am trying to get that culture acclimated in the county offices,” Polivka said. “I handle the county’s money like it is my own money.”

Williams, 55, said she looks to the commissioner’s position as a CEO who has to take responsibility. She said she was frustrated when, at recent meetings she attended, commissioners either would not comment or said they didn’t have control over certain issues, like ones at the county Engineer’s Office.

“You have to dig in and get involved because you are responsible to the people,” she said.

Johnson said he saw firsthand how the county’s hiring process lacked fairness and transparency. He said the county doesn’t utilize the state’s employment resources that almost every private enterprise uses in the Mahoning Valley to find the most qualified worker.

“Very few people visit the Trumbull County human resources website, but tens of thousands job seekers use OhioMeansJobs.com,” he said.

Polivka said his opponent may have been upset about the hiring process of the county’s new human resource director because Johnson believed that his recommendation didn’t get a fair shake.

“The way the selection process went was that the names were blacked out on the resume and the (hiring) committee strictly went by qualifications,” Polivka said. “But I guess you can’t make everybody happy.”

Williams also is concerned about the hiring situation in Trumbull County.

“There are good people who need jobs and I can’t see the county being a personal employment agency for family and friends,” said Williams, who noted she has done hiring as marketing coordinator for H&R Block.

She said a county commissioner should never call a department head to personally endorse a job candidate. As an elected official, she said she has always taken a “hands-off” approach when it comes to helping people get jobs.

As a solution, Williams advocated a “blind interview” format in which a job candidate would forgo the “face-to-face” approach.

“This would be fair for everybody involved,” she said.

Johnson directly called out Polivka for being both commissioner and the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

“In this dual role, he (Polivka) has proven his inability to make fair, nonpartisan decisions, and this has been seen time and again in appointments, endorsements and hiring decisions,” he said. “Gridlock happens here, too.”

Polivka said his skill as a negotiator and dual role as party chairman can be an advantage in the commissioner’s seat.

“I can get people together,” Polivka said. “Sometimes I have to act in the role of a peacemaker, to sit with people who have differences and air their grievances over coffee.”

As a Republican, Williams said she doesn’t think it wouldn’t be a disadvantage to face off against two Democrats on the same board.

“You have to pick your issues but there will be a lot of times when you respectively know how to agree to disagree,” Williams said. “There will be some issues when you will dig in when you have to.

She said it will be advantageous to be a Republican county commissioner who can feel comfortable working with a Republican-dominated state government.

“But I don’t consider myself a straight-line Republican,” she said.

Johnson said he believes he can cross party and racial lines and work in the best interest of the citizens.

“The biggest machine is the people,” he said, noting that his role as pastor allows him to connect with people and their experiences. “They are looking for hope.”

As for the county budget, Johnson said he wouldn’t be opposed to levying a sales tax increase if the need is there.

“A sales tax is paid for also by people out of county who come to the Eastwood Mall, Wal-Mart or Menards to shop,” Johnson said. “We have to educate them about how this burden is shared. But we have to use a sensible approach when it comes to finances.”

Polivka said he helped hold the line in taxes in April 2015 when there was an effort to raise the sales tax a quarter percent. He said he hopes the current Shop Trumbull County campaign, which has increased the sales tax about 4 percent from a year ago, can continue to raise county revenue.

“My fiscal responsibility efforts include consolidating jobs wherever possible, better collaboration between departments and the ability to share equipment and assets with other municipalities and townships,” Polivka said. “And hopefully, we can draw more companies here by making our departments more business-friendly.”

gvogrin@tribtoday.com