The Inefficiencies of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office: A Deeper Look at Bonuses

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.

People

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.

Crime

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.

Money

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?

Cronies

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.]

3 Comments

  1. Michael Bock

    Alexander —

    In this article, one of your themes is the claim that Matt Heck runs the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office inefficiently — as compared to the Prosecutor’s Office in other counties, especially, Summit County.

    What does the word “efficient” mean when applied to government? You seem to assume that t since Summit County is operating its Prosecutor’s Office with fewer employees and less money than Montgomery County, that the Summit Office must be more efficient.

    Simply comparing the amount of money spent and the number of individuals employed in the two Prosecutor’s Office is insufficient to make the conclusion that you want to make. Similarly, someone might argue that the Oakwood School system is inefficient compared to other school systems because Oakwood spends more per pupil and has a lower teacher to pupil ratio — but efficiency is not calculated simply by measuring input, it is also based on results

    The “Looking At People” chart shows that Montgomery County employs one person in the Prosecutor’s Office for every 4250 citizens living in Montgomery County and that Summit County employs one person in its Prosecutor’s Office for every 6598 citizens living in the Summit County. The Montgomery County’s Prosecutor’s office has 1.55 more employees than Summit County (when comparing equal populations). For every two employees in the Summit County Office, per population unity, there are three employees in the Montgomery County Office.

    Since Montgomery County’s Prosecutor’s Office has significantly more employees — to handle crime and to deal with citizen’s problems and complaints — it seems likely that it is doing a better job than the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office. It is a good guess, because Montgomery County’s office is better staffed, that citizens in Montgomery County are more satisfied with their Prosecutor’s office than the citizens of Summit County are satisfied with theirs. But this data alone, of course, in insufficient. Maybe Montgomery County has a lot more crime and legal problems to deal with than Summit and needs more employees in the Prosecutor’s Office.

    Interesting that First Assistant Prosecutor Deborah Armanini earned, with bonus, $178,401.64 last year — considerably more than Prosecutor Matt Heck earned (22% more). You ask a good question as to how Armanini “could possible merit such extraordinary pay,” but there are plenty of attorneys in private practice who earn that amount and much more. My suggestion is that you write a letter to Matt Heck and ask the question. My guess is he has a logical answer. Maybe Armanini has the most seniority and has been working in that office for many years and has moved up through the ranks. Your comment seems unfairly snide — “Is it a coincidence that Armanini’s husband works directly under Mat Heck’s wife as the magistrate for Vandalia? Probably not.”

    You are showing good journalism by not only questioning Heck’s system of bonuses, but by also reporting, that compared to the five counties you studied, “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.”

    I also responded to your January 5 article, “Heck Uses Bonuses to Circumvent Ohio Administrative Code.” So far as I can tell, however, what is still missing to complete this article is data to support your claim that lawyers in the Public Defenders are not being paid fairly compared to the pay received by lawyers in the Prosecutor’s Office.
    I appreciate your efforts in this article to show and analyze lot of relevant data. It seems your goal is to show that there is something fundamentally wrong / corrupt with how Matt Heck is running the Prosecutor’s Office. If there is a case to be made, however, you will need a lot more research and data. I appreciate your efforts.

    Reply
    • Alexander Sharp

      Mike,

      I appreciate your analysis. I do not think that any single metric could gauge the efficiency of the office, which is why I tried to draw several comparisons. It is right to point out that efficiency in government is not measured in the same way as in business, but it is important to consider that there are only so many taxpayer dollars to go around. If Montgomery County had a much higher crime rate than Summit, it would certainly add extra context to the numbers, but that’s not the case. Perhaps we have a better system for victim services or cases do not take as long in Montgomery County, but I have not heard the prosecutor make those cases and I’m not quite sure if I could accurately quantify those claims.

      Perhaps the big takeaway, which I probably could have articulated better (and will attempt to do so as I further investigate this story), is that Mat Heck has claimed that his employees aren’t fairly compensated when that is completely on him. As I noted in previous stories, he has argued that the bonuses were necessary to pay his employees competitive wages, but from all the research I have done it appears that his argument is disingenuous. He’s paying the bonuses out of money allocated for payroll, so if he wanted his employees to earn more he could just increase their salaries.

      The end result, which I plan to write on in more depth, is that the bonus system regressively and disproportionately helps those at the top. Figures like Armanini and Daidone are being paid more than their peers in other counties and then they receive extremely large bonuses on top of that. Meanwhile, the secretary earning $30k may feel great when they receive that $4k bonus, but what they don’t realize is that secretaries in other counties are making $40k+. It also works to the detriment of attorneys who are lower on the totem pole.

      I will concede that when our source originally provided this information and I received the public records, it seemed to be on its face a corrupt misuse of funds. As I continued to parse through the data, though, it appears to be a much more mundane form of corruption. Rather than plundering public funds, Heck appears to be shuffling them around to play favorites. Personally, I still consider this to be graft, even if the only ones who can hold Heck accountable are the voters (if someone would actually run against him!).

      The problem is getting people to care. In a world where the Larry Householder scandal fails to alter voting patterns, a local prosecutor using some funny accounting to give large payouts to his friends just doesn’t seem like a big deal to a lot of people. However, if there’s a justified reason for this spending structure I will happily eat crow. To start, I’ll reach out to Heck and see if he would like to respond.

      Reply
      • Mike Bock

        Alexander,
        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. This afternoon I read all of the material on this website and I’m glad to see the good quality of information, illustrations, and journalism assembled here. It gives the reader a lot to digest and to think about.

        I watched most of the you-tube video posted as part of the “A Tale of Two Cities: Unified Akron and Fragmented Dayton” article — showing the town hall meeting at Wayman Chapel AME in 2016 — and was impressed by the unusual unity of Democrats and Republicans together denouncing the proposed regional plan.

        This website says your Reconstructing Dayton organization seeks to advance “practical, common-sense solutions for Montgomery County and the Greater Dayton area,” but that statement seems mighty vague. What is the problem that these solutions are seeking to solve? You are asserting that there are “way too many jurisdictions in Montgomery County Ohio,” but, is that the problem?

        I think you are correct when you write, “The problem is getting people to care.”
        The key problem that must be addressed is the fact that our republic and our region is falling far below its potential for vitality, creativity, meaning, and prosperity. How can our region live up to its potential? The solution is for a big increase in citizens to begin to care and to begin to put in the effort and commitment to make our system of democracy vigorous.

        If our republic is to have a future, there must be a big increase in the number of citizens who care about understanding and participating in civic matters and who are committed to public virtue — country over party — and committed to building unity.

        The best hope for turning our republic around is at the local, grassroots level. The fact that Montgomery County is structured with many jurisdictions and many elections for local offices is and advantage, not a problem. This structure of multiple jurisdictions gives opportunities for service and participation that a regional structure would not provide.

        People are looking for positive leadership. To move forward we need an optimistic and comprehensive vision of the future. Focusing on Mat Heck is a diversion from providing that leadership. Concerning Heck, I think you misuse the words “graft” and “corruption.” I don’t see any evidence concerning Heck’s actions that justifies the use of those descriptors. There probably is favoritism. It’s in every organization, but favoritism doesn’t seem at a level in Heck’s office where the public should be concerned.

        We need a local Democratic Party organization to be flooded with new active members — and, for a vitalized democracy, we need for the local Republican Party to be flooded with new active members, as well. The result of a truly small-d Democratic Party would mean that the influence of a prominent official, like Heck, and the establishment “monarchy,” that David Esrati hammers on, would fade.

        In the big picture, our republic’s problem is the deterioration of our system of representative democracy. We need a vision of change, and a plan for change so compelling that it becomes inevitable. I love the Rank-Choice voting idea that Reconstructing Dayton is advocating.

        The solution to our central problem is to have a grassroots democratic revival that will bring hundreds, thousand even, of currently sleeping citizens into active engagement. The history of citizen apathy, of course, makes the hope of this solution sound like a big dream, but, in the wake of the disaster of Donald Trump, there is a new generation of citizens energized to want to make a positive difference. Progressives have an opportunity for leadership now that didn’t exist even a short time ago.What is needed is a plan that will inspire and direct potential activists into opportunities for meaningful service and participation in the reconstruction of our democracy.

        Long reply, but I wanted to share this point of view for your consideration. Reconstructing Dayton is positioned to provide leadership that Montgomery County needs. I’m happy for your efforts. I wish you the best.

        Reply

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