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The Suburbanite
  • This poor decision can’t be allowed to happen again

  • The issue: New crime lab director

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  • The issue: New crime lab director
     
    Rick Perez doesn’t have the education, training or experience to run the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab.
    He was just hired as lab director anyway. First, city officials changed the rules so they could settle for less expertise than the job demands.
    Mayor William J. Healy II and Safety Director Thomas Ream should be ashamed of the stunt they just pulled.
    Installing an unqualified director will hurt the reputation of one of the most highly respected crime labs in the state. And it will put unnecessary burdens on the employees that Perez is expected to lead.
    Until late January, when city officials told the Canton Civil Service Commission to weaken the education requirements, the lab director needed a college degree in chemistry, forensic science or business management. Now a high school education will do.
    Perez worked for the Stark County Sheriff’s Office for 37 years, retiring in January as chief deputy.
    No one disputes his abilities as a crime investigator. Ream said his “strong management background” makes him a great fit for the job.
    No, it doesn’t.
    Former Director Robert Budgake could run DNA and other tests, analyze fingerprints, train employees and testify as an expert witness in court. Perez can do none of those things. He can’t improve procedures that he’s not qualified to conduct. He can’t supervise scientists and technicians whose work he isn’t trained to evaluate. So he plans to pull employees away from their regular duties when necessary to make up for his shortcomings.
    City officials were convinced that Perez was right for the job, yet they weren’t open and above board about it beforehand. Members of the executive board of the Stark Council of Governments (SCOG), which oversees the lab and funds about half of its operations, were stunned to learn of it after Perez was hired.
    That’s when they also learned that the job has been declassified, meaning that Perez will report to Healy, Ream and Police Chief Bruce Lawver. And meaning that the city didn’t have to advertise the opening — so no one knows whether more qualified people would have applied.
    It’s not just Canton and the county that could be hurt by this bad decision. Also counting on the lab are the coroner’s office, four courts and more than 20 other police and fire departments.
    Unfortunately, this situation is reminiscent of the mess Mayor Healy created last year when he authorized himself, as a member of the Community Improvement Corp. board, to create a credit-card policy without the other members’ knowledge, issued himself a card, then mistakenly used it for personal purchases. The board then had to cancel the account and tighten the rules.
    Page 2 of 2 - Though the crime lab situation is far more serious, the CIC incident gives the SCOG board, which meets Tuesday, some direction. The board should demand a role in hiring decisions for the crime lab from now on. This can’t be allowed to happen again.