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County must be prudent in hiring process

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda remains adamant that some hires need to be made immediately in the Sanitary Engineer’s office, despite the possibility of some revenue loss in that department due to lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fellow commissioner Dan Polivka is not convinced this is the correct time.

We aren’t convinced either.

While funds for this department are generated not by tax revenue, but by fees paid by county utility customers, it’s still unclear how the pandemic will affect revenue. That’s because during the COVID-19 health crisis, county officials waived water shutoffs, possibly triggering reduced utility collections.

Still, if and when commissioners decide to move forward with hirings in the sanitary engineer’s office, we urge them to be very involved in the process, looking long and hard at the candidates’ qualifications.

Ultimately, the recommendation for hires in his department will come from Sanitary Engineer Randy Smith.

Smith fills a dual role of Sanitary Engineer, where he works under the supervision of county commissioners, and also in the elected role of Trumbull County Engineer, where he answers to the voters.

As county engineer, Smith has shown a long history of hiring local politicians and those with connections to the political spectrum. Smith has hired politicians, including retired history teacher and former Niles Councilman Steve Papalas as administrative assistant, Weathersfield Trustee Steve Gerberry as deputy administrative assistant and former Liberty Trustee Jack Simon, who recently retired after serving as Road Use Maintenance Agreement coordinator.

Now, Anthony Vigorito, a fired Mahoning Valley Sanitary District plant operations manager who got into legal troubles in 2018, has applied. Vigorito’s father is a longtime Niles city worker. We believe he should be considered for this position only if he, indeed, is the best candidate for the job. By the looks of resumes from other applicants, he may not be.

Before Smith’s re-election as county engineer last month, we used this space to encourage Smith to put aside his apparent penchant for building a powerful political fiefdom and concentrate solely on providing the very best road and bridge system for Trumbull County.

We hope he will do that not only in his capacity as county engineer, but also in his role as sanitary engineer.

In his sanitary engineer’s post, it’s commissioners, not Smith, who casts the final vote on hiring personnel.

Commissioners already have been heavily criticized previously for questionable hiring practices. They must keep the bar high and understand it is their responsibility as elected officials to ensure the best people are hired. They must not just rubber stamp a recommendation from department heads, particularly when filling supervisory positions.

In short, the buck stops with them.

We hope they are using accurate, justifiable arguments to determine what positions should be considered “essential” and cannot wait to be filled. And then they must ensure the most qualified candidates — not the most connected people — are hired.

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