LISBON - Their names don't appear in the dictionary under "dedicated," but the unopposed Columbiana County officeholders whose names will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot fit the definition, according to the Democrat and Republican party chairmen.
Three of the candidates, county Prosecutor Robert Herron, county Engineer Bert Dawson and county Coroner Dr. William Graham Jr., have each served at least 20 years, with Dawson actually serving twice as long and seeking a record 11th four-year term. Herron, who was originally appointed to an unexpired term, and Graham are both seeking their sixth four-year terms.
County Clerk of Courts Anthony Dattilio will run for his fifth four-year term, while county Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Baronzzi seeks his second six-year term on the bench. He was originally appointed to fill an unexpired term.
Dattilio and Herron are Democrats, while Baronzzi, Graham and Dawson are all Republicans.
"Both Anthony Dattilio and Bob Herron are well-respected. I respect them both," county Republican Party Chairman David Johnson said.
Neither one has faced much opposition in recent elections from the opposing party. Herron said he's been opposed twice. The first time was when he ran for a full term and then again when he was running for his third term. Dattilio also faced opposition when he ran for his first full term.
"They've done a pretty fine job in their respective offices. Why mount someone to run against them?" David Johnson said.
If someone's doing a good job, he doesn't encourage candidates to run against them, he said. The job of party chairman is to find candidates to run for offices where a challenge can be made. He admitted the economy can play a part, too, since campaigns can be expensive.
County Democrat Party Chairman Dennis Johnson, no relation to David, agreed with his assessment.
"They get in there and do a good job, everybody's satisfied," he said.
In the case of Dawson and Graham, nobody else wants their jobs and both require extensive education and licensing. Dennis Johnson said he's never been able to find a doctor who's interested in taking time away from a private practice to do the job of coroner.
"Bert's always done a
See DEDICATION, 6A
good job," he said regarding the longtime engineer.
The 68-year-old Dawson, who could be called the dean of county officeholders, also holds the distinction of being the senior county engineer in the state of Ohio. He resides in Calcutta with his wife, Deborah, who serves as the fiscal officer for St. Clair Township. He also has two sons and three grandchildren.
He was first elected in 1969 after beating incumbent John Ursu, then defended his hold on the office two more times against Ursu. When asked if this would be his last term, he said "never say never." He said he would think so, as long as he stays healthy and enjoys the work.
"I've got really great people working here and that makes it easier," he said.
He attributed his longevity in office to playing it straight and not playing petty politics.
"We make no distinctions about people's political parties," he said.
Dawson recalled that some of his best working relationships have been with commissioners representing the other party, including Don Lowe, the late Bob Curran, Bert Dailey, Max Gard and John Wargo. Dawson's father was in politics in East Liverpool for 35 years and he followed in his footsteps. He's always tried to run the office as a business, "trying to get the most bang for the buck."
He described Columbiana County as unique because of the cooperative approach with politics, with officeholders working together.
"The voters have been awfully good to me over the years and I appreciate it. I hope we've given them what they expected," Dawson said.
Herron, 56, resides in Salem with his wife Diana and has two children. He also spoke of the cooperation he receives from other agencies and other offices, noting the job can't be done without it.
He said he still enjoys coming to work every day and gets "a lot of satisfaction out of helping victims of criminal offenses."
What brings him back is "the satisfaction of seeing that criminals have to answer for their crimes - that's what drives me," he said.
Herron acknowledged the fact that there will always be critics, tough situations and tough cases, but that's the nature of the work. For every critic, he said there are dozens of positive and thankful people. He praised the dedication of his staff, who he described as people who believe in the work they're doing.
He wouldn't speculate on why others don't run for the office, noting he appreciates the faith the public has shown in the work done by him and his staff. He receives a lot of feedback from grand jurors, police agencies and others. He said he thinks people have recognized the fact that he's put together an experienced, capable staff.
"I think people also recognize the fact that I put politics aside and try to work with everybody and do my job...they see a lot of successes in our efforts to prosecute criminal cases," Herron said.
"I've appreciated the support of the public and I welcome when the public gets involved in the process so they can see the work that we do - those are our biggest supporters," he said.
One of those officeholders he's worked closely with over the years has been the coroner, Dr. Graham, who said he's enjoyed working with Herron on cases.
"We often travel to various meetings together to pursue what charges can be filed. He's a knowledgeable fellow," Graham said.
The 71-year-old East Liverpool resident shares his life with his wife, Mickey, and has five children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His service as coroner began in 1988 when he challenged the incumbent, Dr. Anthony Rich, and won. He hasn't had to campaign since.
"I find it challenging," he said.
Part of the challenge is dealing with the increasing cost of running the office, noting the increasing number of drug deaths which require more extensive and expensive testing. He added, though, that he's not doing the job for the money.
The work is always interesting.
He said it's "intriguing how man is inhumane to other humans."
Graham praised his staff, noting their level of experience. His chief forensic investigator, Fran Rudibaugh, has been there even longer than him, starting in 1984.
"It's been a real privilege to serve the county in this capacity," he said.
Dattilio started working in the Clerk of Courts office in 1985 as chief deputy and took over as the officeholder in 1991 when he was appointed to the unexpired term of his father-in-law, Carl Stacey. He and his wife, Carla, reside outside Leetonia. They have two sons and three grandchildren. His responsibilities cover both Common Pleas Court and county Municipal Court, along with the Title Department.
When questioned on why he's always unopposed, he said, "I'm not quite sure, but I'd like to think it's because I'm doing the job I was elected to do, to provide good service to the people of Columbiana County."
He said there are always projects he wants to see happen, including the continued enhancement of the computer system. The computerization of court records occurred under Dattilio's watch, along with the posting of records on the Internet.
"It better serves the public that way. It keeps the public more informed and gives them easier access to what's happening in the office," he said.
He said he considers himself more of a public servant than an officeholder.
Baronzzi, 46, of Lisbon resides with his wife, Missy. They have three children.
He was first appointed in early 2001 to fill an unexpired term and won election to his first full term in November 2003. Before taking the bench, he practiced law for 14 years in the areas of domestic relations, probate, juvenile, criminal, and property law as well as general and appellate litigation.
Part of the reason he loves his job is the opportunities he sees every day to help others, whether he's "involved in protecting an abused, neglected or dependent child, or helping an elderly or incompetent person understand his or her need to accept the assistance of a legal guardian."
He also presides over civil or criminal matters, enforces child support orders, reviews trust or estate proceedings and spaks to civic groups and school children about the law.
While he acknowledged the responsibility can be overwhelming, he said it's also rewarding.
"I know my courts cannot meet all of the needs of the children, families and elderly that come into the courts, but each day I am given the opportunity to try to make a difference," he said in a written response.
>Mary Ann Greier can be reached at mgreier\@salemnews.net