Canton-Stark County Crime Lab Director Rick Perez resigned at the urging of Mayor William J. Healy II Monday, a week after being hand picked for the job.
Canton-Stark County Crime Lab Director Rick Perez resigned at the urging of Mayor William J. Healy II on Monday, a week after being hand-picked for the job.
Healy said his decision to ask Perez, 57, to step down was not about the former chief deputy of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, but the process used to hire him and the lack of communication with the countywide board that funds the crime lab. Healy also said he was unaware that Safety Director Thomas Ream lowered the required qualifications on a job description for the director’s post.
Perez, who has 37 years of law-enforcement experience, does not have a college degree. The job previously had called for a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, forensic science or business management.
“When this scenario came to my attention, there were things I was not aware of,” Healy said. “... This isn’t necessarily about Rick Perez. This is about the process, and I don’t think the process was handled appropriately. We are trying to fix that. Most importantly, the process immediately created integrity and credibility problems for the entire (lab). We can’t have that. Not in the city of Canton and not in Stark County.”
Healy said he supported the hiring of Perez initially because of his lengthy law-enforcement career. However, the process was not transparent, he said. He took responsibility for the situation.
On Friday, Marlboro Township Police Chief Ron Devies sent a letter to the crime lab asking it to return evidence from about a dozen cases. Devies plans to send the evidence to the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in Richfield.
“I have to question the political back-room antics that led to this new direction of ‘leadership’ and the qualifications the new ‘director’ has,” Devies wrote. “The Marlboro Police Department wishes to have no part in this questionable decision stemming from the good ole boy networking of politics. I suspect whatever the reason was, ethics certainly was not a talking point.”
Alliance Police Chief Scott Griffith said Monday his department had been considering such a move for about a month, and that the hiring of Perez raised additional concerns.
Members of North Canton City Council and Mayor David Held also questioned the decision at their Monday meeting. Councilman Doug Foltz proposed that council pass a resolution calling on the city of Canton to restore the original job qualifications.
“I think it’s vital we keep the standards of that lab together,” Foltz said.
Executive board members of the Stark Council of Governments, which funds the crime lab, said Friday they were blindsided by Perez’s hiring and changes to the job description. Stark County Commissioner and SCOG Chairman Thomas Bernabei said it was “inconceivable” that the city acted without consulting SCOG members first.
Page 2 of 2 - Bernabei planned to address concerns at an executive board meeting at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Mayor’s Conference Room, Canton City Hall, 218 Cleveland Ave. SW. Healy said he now will use the meeting to address filling the post. Healy said the city, which is the appointing authority, plans to advertise the job this time. Perez might reapply, Healy said.
Perez, who could not immediately be reached for comment, replaced longtime director Robert Budgake, who was dismissed from his job with 30 other city employees a year ago for retiring and then being rehired. The city claims the employees did not follow the proper procedures to be rehired. The retire-rehire process, known as “double-dipping,” is legal in Ohio.
Perez, who was collecting a state pension, was set to earn $70,848 annually, about $12,500 less than Budgake.
Ream said last week that the city wanted someone to serve in a managerial role, rather than possessing a scientific and technical background. Ream defended the hiring by saying that the city and county are fortunate to have someone with Perez’s law enforcement experience.
However, the American Society of Crime Lab Directors/Lab Accreditation Board “strongly recommends” that lab directors, especially for highly scientific backgrounds, possess a degree in criminalistics, natural sciences or a closely related field.
Healy said he stands by Ream.
“I overrode his decision and said ‘we’re going to undo that and start over,’ ” he said of Ream. “That’s a rare act as mayor to basically change the process of something that one of your key directors has been involved with.”