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Csonka questions empty director position

November 1, 2012
Morning Journal News

LISBON - With less than a week before the election, Columbiana County commissioner candidate Joe Csonka was back before the board to again ask why they are waiting to fill the Emergency Management Agency director position.

Csonka, who is running against Commissioner Jim Hoppel, attended Wednesday's commissioners meeting still seeking a satisfactory answer for why they rejected the candidates recommended for the EMA position by their interview committee.

"Someone is not telling the truth," said Csonka, who appeared before commissioners in late August to ask the same questions.

The position came open this summer following the resignation of Darren Dodson. A review committee was appointed by commissioners consisting of long-time EMA employee Edie Dillard, who is currently serving as interim EMA director; a representative from FirstEnergy, which provides most of the EMA's funding; and the local representative from the Ohio EMA who is assigned to the office.

The committee interviewed about 20 applicants and provided commissioners with three recommendations. Following Csonka's August appearance before commissioners, Commissioner John Payne nominated Greg Carver for the job since he was ranked highest according to the FirstEnergy representative he spoke with. Payne is also up for election but his motion to hire Carver failed after neither Commissioner Mike Halleck or Hoppel would second his motion to bring it up for a vote.

Payne and Csonka are Democrats. Halleck and Hoppel are Republicans.

Csonka, who has made the issue part of his campaign, has said it makes no sense to appoint a review committee and then ignore its recommendations.

"They don't understand and I don't understand. It doesn't make sense," he said.

Csonka questioned the wisdom of continuing to delay filling the position. "This is an important position, and what if what happened in New York happened here? Where would we be?" he said.

Halleck reminded Csonka they have an interim director in Dillard, and she is doing an outstanding job, so much so that he is inclined to name her to the position permanently.

Halleck indicated he and Hoppel have decided to take their time in filling the position because they want to get it right.

"If something should go wrong, God forbid and hopefully it never will, we are the ones who have to answer. So it's incumbent on this board to get the best person we can," Halleck said.

Hoppel said they decided to continue the search because the review committee was less than enthusiastic about any of the applicants. "They indicated they were the best (of the applicants) but they were not totally satisfied with any of them," he said.

Csonka said the FirstEnergy representative told Payne the committee was satisfied with Carver. "Somebody must not be telling the truth," Csonka said.

Halleck told Csonka his problem is he is operating based on rumors instead of facts, a reference to a rumor Csonka shared at a candidate's forum last week. Csonka said fire chiefs told him commissioners were planning to name Sheriff Ray Stone to the EMA position should Stone lose his re-election bid, a rumor denied by Stone and Hoppel.

Halleck said it is easy to spread rumors and preceded to share one he heard about Csonka: That Csonka opposes naming Dillard to the EMA position because she is a woman. Halleck said he defended Csonka, telling the person, "I can't believe Joe is like that."

Csonka was outraged. "That's a (darn) lie. I've known Edie for 30 years and she is one of the best, hardest working people I know," he said, then firing back with a rumor of his own.

"Let's talk about rumors. I heard one that when Mary Smith was trying to be the EMA director that Jim said a woman would never have that job," Csonka said.

Hoppel defended himself immediately, saying like the Stone rumor, that one also was false. He said commissioners actually offered Smith the job for more money than her predecessor but she turned it down.

"You wanted to get another rumor in play, another political cheap shot you wanted to get into play," he told Csonka. "Do you think there are any rumors about you, Joe?"

"I'm sure there are," Csonka said.

"Have I brought them up? No, because I just figure it's a political cheap shot when you bring up rumors," Hoppel said.

Csonka turned his attention back to Halleck, asking him who were the people he had in mind for the EMA job. Halleck dismissed it as another rumor being spread by Csonka, but Csonka referred to a Sept. 9 newspaper story in which Halleck was quoted as saying he knew of some qualified people who were close to retiring and might be interested in applying.

While Halleck demurred on whether he had anyone specific in mind, he said it is no secret he believes you can sometimes find more qualified candidates for important positions through recruitment rather than taking applications.

"I have never denied that," he said.

"You just denied it a minute ago," Csonka said.

"If that's in the paper, that's close enough, I'll accept that," Halleck said of the comments attributed to him.

At this point Csonka said he was done debating commissioners. "I won't take any more of your time. We're not getting anywhere," he said.

Then Halleck acknowledged county Engineer Bert Dawson was in the audience and asked him if he had any business with the board. Dawson said he was there because he heard his name had been brought up at the candidate debates and he was there to defend himself if need be.

A short while later Csonka attempted to speak with Dawson, but Dawson told him, "I'm done with you," and left.

After the meeting, Csonka said he believes Dawson is upset with critical comments he made at candidate debates about county efforts in the early 1990s to get water service for the federal prison in Elkton. The county obtained funding for extending a waterline from Salem but left Salem in charge of who could have access to the water.

As a Center Township trustee, Csonka said he was frustrated because they lost a nursing home to East Palestine because Salem was unwilling to provide water service to the nursing home unless the owner annexed the property into the city. He said township residents with well troubles should have also been able to tap in.

Csonka said if he were a commissioner at the time he would never have agreed to the deal, unless property owners were allowed to tap into the water line without annexing into the city.

"I like Bert. He's done a lot of good for the county, but the truth is they dropped the ball on this. If he can't take someone saying he made a mistake, well, that's the way I operate," Csonka said.

Dawson said afterwards he was disappointed Csonka would use a nearly 20-year project as a campaign issue even after he explained to him how it all came about.

"I sat down with Joe to go over the what occurred so he would understand it, and then he goes out and distorts it at these campaign events," he said.

None of the current commissioners were in the office when the waterline project was approved, but Hoppel said it is his understanding county officials had no choice at the time.

"That's the only deal they could make to get water" to land the prison, he said, adding, "I checked into it (after taking office) and I didn't like the deal either."



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