In our continuing investigation of the large bonuses handed out by Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck, we previously looked at the initial findings of our public records request, Mat Heck’s history of sketchy finances, and how his over-compensating employees of the Prosecutor’s office violates an Ohio Administrative code requiring parity with the Public Defender’s Office. All this made us wonder if this is standard operating procedure in other counties. We sent public records requests to other Ohio counties: Summit, Lucas, Warren, Hamilton, and Clark. Summit and Lucas are the most similar in size to Montgomery County in the state. Hamilton, home of Cincinnati, provides an example of a larger county while Warren and Clark are smaller counties that border Montgomery.
What we found was that no other County Prosecutor provides bonuses. Some counties, such as Clark, provided lump sum payments in compensation for overtime pay or as a cash-out for unused vacation or sick pay. Bonuses—either for merit or just as a Christmas treat—were never offered anywhere else.
Before bonuses, the average employee wage in the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office is lower than all but Lucas County. Adding bonuses makes them roughly equivalent to other counties. Lucas County’s lower average can be accounted for by having several part-time employees whose low earnings (between $10-20k) weigh that number down. Removing them brings Lucas on par to the others.
Does this vindicate Mat Heck? When previously questioned about the bonuses, he claimed that he was simply finding a way to provide his employees with a competitive wage. We don’t think that flies. A closer look at the data reveal that the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office is run less efficiently than others. Because the bonuses are between 9.0 to 21.6% of employee salaries, the system works regressively to disproportionately benefit the top salary earners who are in Heck’s inner circle.
In the chart above, the blue bars represent the population of each county while the black bars represent employees of each county’s prosecutor’s office. The green line indicates how many people per prosecutor office employee the county has. This shows a proximate of efficiency—a higher line indicates a more efficient office—because more people are served by fewer employees. Notice how Clark, Warren and Summit stand in stark contrast to Montgomery, Hamilton, and Lucas. Montgomery scores the lowest according to this metric—significantly lower than closest comparison Summit. The part-timers at Lucas weighed their score down somewhat, but we think it’s fair to include them because the top earners at Lucas made more than the average top earners at other offices.
Although Summit is the best analog for Montgomery County in terms of population, crime, and demographics, there is an important caveat when looking at these data. The City of Akron has its own criminal prosecutor as part of its law department whereas the major cities in these others counties only use the city law department to deal with municipal legal services. Akron’s prosecutor also deals with minor misdemeanors and traffic offenses for suburban municipalities. However, it should be noted that the combined staff of the Akron Law Department and the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office is still almost 1/3 less than Montgomery County’s. In fact, the total budget for the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office for 2019 was $10,630,972 while the combined budget of the Akron Law Department and Summit County Prosecutor’s Office was $10,003,773. If the City of Dayton Civil Law Division were combined with the County Prosecutor’s Office, it would add about $1.6 million to the budget. So even if we took the bonuses away from Mat Heck, he would still pay slightly more overall for the same services as Summit despite having a lower population.
Population doesn’t tell us everything, though. What about crime? After all, if Dayton has to deal with more crime than other counties, it would make sense that the Prosecutor’s Office would require a greater staff.
We used violent crimes from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services because that data was easy to retrieve. It should be noted that the crime data is from 2017 while the Montgomery County data is from 2019 and the other counties provided 2020 data (the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office is dragging their feet on our most recent request—using the 2019 data for them throughout this article actually makes them look better). Although this does not reflect the entire scope of the responsibilities that fall under the prosecutor’s office, it’s a useful metric when comparing one county to another. Undoubtedly large counties such as Montgomery, Hamilton, Lucas, and Summit have more civil work that weighs them down compared to the more rural counties, but again Summit shows itself to be much more efficient. If the six employees of the criminal division of the City of Akron Law Division are included—or even all twenty employee—Summit still comes out on top. Once again Montgomery County appears in last place.
Here a lower green line indicates greater efficiency. It just looks at the cost per citizen of funding the county prosecutor. Of course, not all citizens are taxpayers and not all county revenues are derived from taxes, so keep in mind this is just a method of gauging the comparative efficiencies of these offices—it does not mean that you personally pay $14.72 to support Mat Heck’s office. Once again the main takeaway is that Montgomery County pays more for less. Even if one were to assume all seven of Akron’s criminal prosecutors make $100,000, that bumps them up to $10.79 per citizen, which is still the most efficient on the list.
It appears that the Montgomery County Commissioners are in fact appropriating all of this money for salaries (pages 438 and 439) and they are also increasing this amount each year. In 2019 Heck ended up with a total surplus of $30,000. Just enough to stay under budget, but not enough for the Commission to consider decreasing his budget. If he ran the office more efficiently, he would have less employees, pay them more, and use less money. Why would he set up such a system that fails to do this?
Perhaps the most damning data point can be found in this chart:
The highest paid employee in the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office makes $45,096.27, more than the highest paid employee in the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office. Remember, that’s a 2019 figure. In 2020, that individual made $154,996.40 and received a $23,405.24 bonus. $178,401.64 a year, that’s a hefty sum for a public servant. That’s more than Heck earns, with a salary of $146,574.
Who could possible merit such extraordinary pay? First Assistant Prosecutor Deborah Armanini. Is it a coincidence that Armanini’s husband works directly under Mat Heck’s wife as the magistrate for Vandalia? Probably not.
Let’s look at how the salaries break down:
The numbers from Lucas County, like those from Montgomery, show a large disparity between the administrative staff and the lawyers. In fact, in Lucas County it’s worse, with the greatest number of $100,000+ earners of any county despite the fact that there are three larger counties in this analysis. Concerned citizens in Lucas County should probably be asking questions. We’re not going to jump to any conclusions regarding the low-paid employees because Lucas County might just have the most robust intern program, but the fact that their highest paid employees are earning more than the ones in Hamilton County is not a good look. If this were Reconstructing Toledo, we’d dig deeper.
That being said, the larger counties do have interns that bring down their minimum numbers. In this comparison, Clark and Warren look the best because they pay their lowest paid employees more and their highest paid employees less, but they probably don’t have the interns weighing them down on the low-end. Summit once again stands in contrast to comparable counties with numbers that look more like the smaller Clark and Warren, and in this category the Akron Law Department caveat does not apply. The staff Summit County employs are more concentrated in the $50k-$100k range, while they hire a lower percentage of lower wage administrative and support staff. They do this using a smaller budget while maintaining a similar average employee wage by only paying three individuals over $100,000. Only the much smaller Clark County has less employees in that category.
Based on the counties we reviewed, the bonus system is not standard, although actual attorneys in the office could be paid more. That can only happen by running things more efficiently—and to stop handing out big rewards to favored employees. Although the average employee in the Prosecutor’s Office makes below or around the average amount, it’s worth considering the high variability of the bonuses and how a favored few—such as Armanini—end up receiving compensation far above a fair market value. Most attorneys for the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office appear to earn less not because the county fails to properly fund the office, but because Heck doles out extremely high compensation to the top earners and employs more administrative support staff than other prosecutors. In the future we we will take a more focused look at individuals who received the biggest bonuses and why. And, we’re not even taking into consideration that Montgomery Counties cost of living is lower than Hamilton counties.
Why is Montgomery County so Inefficient?
When comparing Montgomery County to others, it appears that we are slightly less efficient than Hamilton County and much less efficient than Summit County. Running things as efficiently as Summit County should be the goal. Unfortunately, people often do not consider bureaucratic finesse when electing a prosecutor. That’s why prosecutors love to boast about the long sentences they have stuck to the worst criminal offenders, not how they manage the books. For Mat Heck, he doesn’t have to run on anything since he hasn’t been challenged in thirty years (the power of prosecutors to discourage other lawyers from running against them is a separate issue we have touched on in previous posts).
If you have spent any time following the work of Reconstructing Dayton, you’re probably aware that our primary gripe with local politics in Montgomery County are inefficiencies and duplication of services in the county. Why do we have so many municipal courts and clerks and corresponding websites? Franklin County has one municipal court system. You may also recall that we have looked at the policies of Summit County as a model for Montgomery County to learn from, as they have consolidated much of Akron and Summit County’s functions using a county charter. Ironically, the prosecutor is one area where Summit is more fragmented than Montgomery, and they still manage to run the office more efficiently. Perhaps that has something to do with the FBI cracking down on Summit for corruption in the late 1970s. Unfortunately for Montgomery County, the FBI’s “culture of corruption” tour was short-lived before they moved on to Cincinnati.
In future posts, we’ll continue collecting data and provide analysis of the non-standard policies of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office. There are political angles to consider. We want to investigate why Heck runs his office so inefficiently. We believe this conflicts with the parity of the Public Defender’s Office and the state Attorney General should investigate. But we also believe that violation was incidental. By all accounts, it appears that the office is run so inefficiently because efficiency is not Mat Heck’s goal. We have already begun to look at what’s driving Heck (hint: previous section) and will continue to share yet another reason why we’d be a heck of a lot better off without Mat Heck as prosecutor.
[A note on the data: A few employees of Clark County were excluded from the analysis because they worked so few hours that they skewed the results; one earned $450.00 for the year while the other earned $750.00.]