Having courts under one roof is not consolidation
Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti is right in suggesting that the county court system needs to be restructured, but he's wrong in thinking that merely placing three of the four courts under one roof is the answer.
For more than a decade we have advocated replacing the courts below the Common Pleas level with a metropolitan system with full-time judges and a streamlined staff, but there has been a definite lack of intestinal fortitude on the part of the decision-makers. County commissioners, who control the pursestrings, have been unwilling to lead on this important issue.
Thus, when Traficanti talks about placing the courts in Austintown, Boardman and Canfield in one building -- Sebring would be left alone -- he is not talking about consolidation. Consolidation means the elimination of the part-time courts -- as called for by the Ohio Supreme Court, the Mahoning Valley Chiefs of Police and former Ohio Auditor Jim Petro, who is the state's attorney general. It also means getting rid of the municipal courts in Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers and the mayor's courts in Poland and New Middletown.
During his tenure as state auditor, Petro conducted a performance audit of county government that contained 200 recommendations for changing the way the people's business is conducted. One recommendation called for the creation of a metropolitan court system. The elimination of the part-time county courts alone -- each of the four judges earns more than $50,000 a year and receives full benefits -- would save the county more than $250,000 a year in rent payments and would end duplication of services, Petro said at the time.
The overall savings from the restructuring of the court system below the Common Pleas level would be enormous. Consider this: The judges of the Youngstown Municipal Court have been pressing for new quarters and estimates for a new municipal courthouse are in the $8 million range. Even the renovation of the City Hall Annex on Front Street has a price tag of many millions of dollars.
The taxpayers cannot afford to keep supporting the status quo in government. Archaic systems that have become nothing more than employee protection programs must be eliminated.
That's why we strongly endorsed former Mayor George M. McKelvey's proposal to the commissioners in Mahoning or Trumbull counties for the takeover of the city's 911 emergency telephone system. McKelvey went so far as to offer $5 million to either county to make the proposal more attractive. Yet, he left office in December without an agreement being reached.
It is this refusal on the part of the elected representatives to face economic realities that has taxpayers up in arms.
McKelvey made a telling point when, in arguing for the 911 takeover, he noted that Youngstown's center is located just 200 yards from Mahoning County's center. Why? Because that's the way government operates.
If Commissioner Traficanti wants to leave his mark, he will lead the effort for true consolidation of the court system below the Common Pleas level. Anything less is tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.