LISBON - Are Columbiana County commissioners keeping the vacant county Emergency Management Agency position open for the sheriff should the sheriff lose his re-election bid?
The issue was raised at Wednesday night's debate by Democratic commissioner candidate Joe Csonka, who said he heard a rumor that commissioners plan to appoint someone sharing the stage with him to the EMA position.
"I think they have someone in mind," Csonka said, adding he heard that person was Sheriff Ray Stone.
That did not sit well with Csonka's opponent, incumbent Jim Hoppel. "Joe, I have to assume that rumor's true because you started it," he said.
"Jim, I didn't start the rumor. I heard it," Csonka said.
Hoppel and Stone are Republicans, and both denied there was any truth to the rumor commissioners intend to name Stone EMA director should the sheriff lose in the Nov. 6 election to John Soldano.
"There is no plan to hire anyone," Hoppel said afterwards. "It has never been brought up."
Stone said following the debate that Csonka told him he heard the rumor at a meeting of the county fire chiefs, some of whom contract with the sheriff's office for dispatching services.
"The fire departments don't like me because I'm a stickler for following 911 (dispatching) procedures," he said, adding the rumors are obviously being spread by those who want him to lose the election.
"I wouldn't take that job if they gave it to me and paid me a $100,000. I'm not qualified. I've been a police officer since I've been in my 20s," Stone said.
Hoppel said he did not appreciate his integrity being attacked in such a manner. "Why even bring up a rumor. It's a cheap shot when you bring up a rumor. Why didn't he ask us when he first heard the rumor?" he said.
Csonka said commissioners accused him of playing politics with the issue when it appeared they were the ones doing so by disregarding the recommendation of their interview committee. Commissioner John Payne, the lone Democrat on the board, had made a motion to hire the candidate recommended by the committee but was voted down by Hoppel and fellow Republican commissioner Mike Halleck.
Csonka questioned commissioners initially after he heard another rumor they were going to hire someone from outside the county despite the fact he knew there were qualified local applicants.
The interview committee was made up of EMA staff and representatives from FirstEnergy, which provides the funding for the EMA. Hoppel said the committee, indicated to him they were dissatisfied with the field of applicants, which is why he opted to do nothing for now while commissioners decide whether to re-advertize for the position.
Until then, Hoppel said he is satisfied the EMA is in capable hands with interim EMA Director Edie Dillard, who has worked there since 2004.
Commissioner Payne is also up for election and is opposed by Republican Tim Weigle and independent John Wargo. Payne said it only made sense to follow the recommendation of the interview committee they appointed, and Wargo agreed. Weigle said, had he been commissioner, he would have sat in on the interviews, which would have proven beneficial when making a decision.
The exchange was the highlight of the debate between the various commissioner candidates. The commissioner candidates also addressed other issues during the debate, which time constraints prevented from being included in this story. Their positions on various issues will be covered in candidate stories scheduled to appear in Monday's edition.