In the final days of the campaign for clerk of the Barberton Municipal Court, a purely administrative position, Zack Milkovich’s case for unseating a well-qualified incumbent seems to boil down to two themes.
One is that he walks door to door, taking the time to listen to people.
The other is that he raised money to buy a new home for Larry Modic, a veteran whose house was torn down after it was condemned by the city of Akron.
“It’s all about helping people,” says the narrator of an ad about door-to-door campaigning.
Even by today’s standards of shallow, misleading campaigns, Milkovich’s effort to oust Diana Stevenson, a lawyer, former magistrate in Summit County Probate Court and former assistant county prosecutor, is a doozy.
Milkovich refuses to grant interviews about how he would handle court documents and collect millions in fines and fees.
He has tried to make an issue of customer service and uncollected fines, but there is no substance to either issue. Stevenson, a Republican who was appointed last year, has dramatically reduced what’s owed to the court. As for unhappy customers, let’s keep in mind that the people who show up in her office aren’t pleased to be there in the first place.
Meanwhile, Milkovich says very little about his time in Columbus. That’s probably because there isn’t much to say. Besides a 100 percent record of attendance when the House is in session, Milkovich, who lacks administrative experience, offers little legislative experience, as well.
The Barberton Democrat, who formerly worked in the tire mold industry, has introduced three bills this session. One would give free hunting and fishing licenses to veterans, another would reduce the amounts of campaign contributions under Ohio law and the third deals with licensing requirements for counselors, social workers and family therapists. None has received even a hearing.
Handling money responsibly seems to be a problem. Only recently were back property taxes paid on property Milkovich owns with Golf North Properties, incorporated by Milkovich’s ally, Ernie Tarle. Paperwork also seems to be a problem. Milkovich never listed Golf North on his Ohio Ethics Commission form, even though Tarle describes him as a silent partner. The form says to list everything. Golf North still owes more than $22,000 in property taxes.
Milkovich is also in trouble with the Ohio Elections Commission for signs that imply that he, not Stevenson, is the current clerk of courts.
There is little doubt that a Milkovich victory would bring Tarle straight into the clerk’s office. There are no qualifications; all 13 positions in the clerk’s office are pure patronage.
That’s probably a good thing for Tarle because he is the only Akron politician ever to be recalled from office, barely escaping criminal charges after he passed (in 1998) an envelope of cash from an oil company executive to a fellow council member in the men’s room at City Hall.
Want administrative experience? Tarle’s Florida real estate company collapsed in 2012 in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, with $4.5 million in debts. Later, Tarle tried to set up a charter school. The sponsor withdrew.
Tarle, who is helping Milkovich campaign and who helped him circulate petitions on a Norton sewer issue (the community is not in Milkovich’s legislative district), originally wanted to be Milkovich’s chief of staff after he won his seat in the Ohio House in 2010. But the plan fell through when the two learned that members get one aide, paid $30,000 a year, who must work in Columbus, not, as Tarle wanted, in a district office.
But a jump to chief deputy clerk would be a substantial increase. The deputy clerk makes $50,000 a year, which could be bumped up by the clerk, who makes $97,000. (Legislators make about $61,000.)
There is no way clerks of court should be elected in the first place. The courts are run by judges. The only good thing about a victory by Milkovich would be that it might spur reform, allowing judges to appoint clerks.
The Barberton court district covers the cities of Barberton, Clinton, Green, New Franklin and Norton and the townships of Copley and Coventry. Please vote responsibly.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.