"To the victor belong the spoils." During a Congressional debate in 1831 a New York senator, William L. Marcy, used that phrase to describe the spoils system of appointing government workers.
Such is the case when members of some county boards are appointed by county commissioners. Thus when the term of former state Rep. Charles Blasdel on the Columbiana County Port Authority expired at the end of last year, it became county commissioners' job to appoint a new member.
Since the board of commissioners is composed of two Democrats and one Republican, it was expected that a Democrat would be named to the board. And it was no surprise when Robert C. Johnson, son of county Democratic Party Chairman Dennis Johnson, was named to the port board by a vote of 2 to 1.
What made this vote different from past appointments to the port authority board is the 2-1 split was not along Democrat-Republican lines. This time commissioners from the same party were divided over the appointment. Penny Traina and Dan Bing are Democrats, while Jim Hoppel is a Republican. Bing voted against Johnson's appointment because he had someone else in mind for the job who he thought was more qualified. Hoppel said he felt he didn't have the vote this time since he is from the minority party, so he voted for Johnson.
While all three commissioners said they were confident that Johnson is qualified for the position, another unsuccessful candidate for the port seat felt differently.
Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building & Construction Trades Council, believes he was the most qualified candidate, given his work in the construction field, his position as head of a construction trade group representing 1,500 union workers in the county, and membership in the Youngstown Regional Chamber of Commerce. Crane asked what criteria was used to select Johnson.
"I just want to make sure politics didn't play a role," he said.
Obviously, politics do play a role. Anytime an appointment needs to be made, no matter what the position, the party in power has the right to give the seat to one of its own members. It's just the way the game is played.
However, we hope that politics is not the only consideration when making such appointments. When seats such as those, for example, on the port authority or the board of elections, are being filled, the impact of choosing unqualified members can be felt by the entire county.
To the victor belong the spoils. So be it. But be sure the candidates are qualified and not purely political appointments. Everyone suffers when candidates lack the necessary qualifications to adequately fill the positions.