Columbiana County appears to have a love-hate relationship with former Commissioner Mike Halleck - you either love him or hate him - there doesn't seem to be any middle ground.
When Halleck was commissioner in the 1990s he created many enemies. He didn't care that his willingness to make unpopular but what he believed were necessary changes is what created those enemies. He also didn't care that ultimately his most unpopular decision - privatizing the Columbiana County Jail - probably cost him his job back then.
That controversial move which divided the county, resulted in a $2.9 million savings in the first year of privatization and has saved the county more than $12 million in the 11 years since.
Every county commissioner since Halleck has signed the contract renewal with Civigenics, even those who opposed privatization. Why? Because of the huge savings. During the current recession the county would have suffered extreme fiscal problems if it were still operating the jail. Privatizing it just made good sense, but someone had to be brave enough to get the ball rolling, and that someone was Mike Halleck.
Now, Halleck wants that job back and we believe he should have it.
Incumbent Commissioner Dan Bing is a nice guy whom we all know and like. But he lacks Halleck's "take-the-bull-by-the horns" attitude.
Bing, along with the other two current commissioners - Democrat Penny Traina and Republican Jim Hoppel - have gotten along splendidly. The party lines between the three seemed to disappear and decisions have been based on what's good for the county, not politics.
But we believe most of the accomplishments of the board of commissioners can be attributed to the work of Traina and Hoppel, not Bing.
Bing characterizes himself as a guy who works "behind the scenes" on many county projects. He says he's the one who makes the phone calls and does the legwork.
Some of those accomplishments Bing cited include creating a county organization to promote tourism, reducing the county's Multi-County Juvenile Attention annual payment for housing juvenile offenders by $200,000, implementing countywide 911 service and working to expand the service to cell phone users, helping create the Community and Family Resource Center in Lisbon and working to get the A&L landfill near Lisbon closed.
Bing says he's "not the kind of guy that makes a big spiel," and "stays out of the headlines."
Bing was also voted to make the .5 percent piggyback sales tax permanent on his first day in office. While we agree that the .5 percent sales tax was needed, Halleck feels that it should not have been imposed or made permanent. By requiring it to be renewed every five years, Halleck says it would make commissioners more accountable to voters, adding that he would "never support a permanent tax."
Bing defended his vote as the right thing to do, adding he would do it again because of the financial stability it has provided county government. "I think it kept us from being in really bad trouble to being able to keep our head above water," he said.
During the 2006 campaign, Bing said he favored giving voters one more chance to pass the tax before he would vote to impose it, but by the end of the campaign he came to support immediate imposition of the tax.
"If that's the reason to vote against me, so be it," he said.
When economic conditions improve, we need to be able to rely on our commissioners to bring new jobs to the county. Halleck says he believes "Hoppel and Traina have done a great job. And I'm a good fit for the third person (commissioner)."
Halleck says he feels the role of the third commissioner should be as an ambassador to attract jobs. He foresees Columbiana County's economic future to be in smaller industrial parks containing small businesses. And he believes regionalization is the key to attracting more businesses. "We can't be parochial about jobs," Halleck said.
Noting that the county has a serious problem with daytime break-ins occurring in rural areas, Halleck said he would support placing a law enforcement levy on the ballot to allow the sheriff's department to have the manpower to increase road patrols.
To those who feel he is politically divisive, Halleck says, detractors should check with the people he's worked with. "I'm not about Democrat or Republican or playing nice. I'm not interested in playing that game. I do what is right and let the political winds take their toll."
It's nice that our current commissioners get along, but now it's time to move forward. For that reason, the Morning Journal editorial board endorses Mike Halleck for county commissioner.