Monaghan delivers slapdown
Jun 2, 2014 at 6:22 PM
The honeymoon is over.
A heated exchange between Erie County commissioners Bill Monaghan and Pat Shenigo on Wednesday might mark the end to one of the most enduring and effective local political partnerships in recent history.
Monaghan shut down Shenigo when Shenigo began sharing his views on a pending $8.5 million water lawsuit pitting Sandusky, the plaintiff, against Erie County, the defendant.
The banter centered on Shenigo believing the public’s entitled to an update with Monaghan contending all details should remain private.
“When someone makes me mad, I express my opinion,” Monaghan said. “I’m angry that he brought something to the table that he shouldn’t have. When Mr. Shenigo questioned my integrity, that is when I get pissed.”
But the testy back-and-forth revealed a greater underlying problem between the two men, who in the past were sometimes referred to as the "Dynamic Duo" for the united front they often displayed.
Since 2009, when Shenigo entered office and two years into Monaghan’s first term, the pair teamed up to implement a hyper-focused plan to make the county fiscally responsible.
Each man, both coming from business backgrounds, supported one another on cost-cutting measures that reduced the county’s debt from a peak of $116 million in 2008 to $93 million entering this year.
The partnership appears to have started going south about six months ago, however, when Monaghan still faced the possibility of two challengers in two separate commission races this year: a May primary and the November general election.
Monaghan said he expected he would see a primary challenge from Sandusky city commissioner Julie Farrar in the Democratic primary, but that didn't happen.
No other Democrat challenged Monaghan, and no Republican filed to contest the two-term incumbent commissioner. The only possible challenge left for Monaghan in seeking re-election this fall is if an Independent files to run against him.
As Monaghan’s political landscape crystallized, he began to distance himself from Shenigo and align with the third county commissioner, Tom Ferrell. The new alliance between Monaghan and Ferrell appears designed to ice out Shenigo and is a 180 for Monaghan.
For years, Monaghan blamed Ferrell as the main culprit — the common denominator on county commission, who's served since 1989 — responsible for mismanaging county government and making decisions that skyrocketed the county's debt to $116 million.
Ferrell led the charge, Monaghan claimed, approving numerous flawed and costly projects involving landfill; land purchases; and water lines and sewer pipe initiatives.
But in 2014, Monaghan shifted his focus and Shenigo landed in his crosshairs.
The chill between Monaghan and Shenigo became a deep freeze, with Monaghan complaining that Shenigo "stopped talking to me."
But Shenigo said he's repeatedly reached out to him.
Monaghan seems to have adopted an attack mode when it comes to Shenigo, and he's embracing officials he once demonized, including county sanitary engineer Jack Meyers.
Monghan once said, and repeated, that Meyers used "chameleon accounting" to justify irresponsible and costly past decisions by the county, including specifically Meyers' past work on the same water issues central to the city's lawsuit.
Despite the history of animosity, Monaghan brought Meyers back into the settlement negotiations for the city's water lawsuit, demanding Shenigo keep out and hush up about it.
Monaghan also lobbed criticism at Shenigo in April after Shenigo solicited private donations to restore cable TV service for Cleveland Indians games at the county’s nursing home after cable providers raised rates. Ferrell also sought a private solution and said he supported the outcome from Shenigo's effort.
Monaghan also attacked Shenigo's decision to lend aerial view displays of various overviews of the county for a nonprofit gathering of the county Democratic women's group. The displays had been previously donated to the county by Shenigo.
Shenigo said he did not know in January that Monaghan planned to remain commission president with a vote from Ferrell. During commission's organizational meeting, Ferrell opened by nominating Monaghan president of commission and Monaghan quickly accepted.
Shenigo, who is in his second term, has never served as commission president, a position Monaghan has held for the last six years.
But who is serving as president isn't what's bothering him, Shenigo said, giving Monaghan a thumbs up for his past success in the role.
He's more concerned with his former ally's about-face on important issues — including the water lawsuit and any subsequent agreement that might be achievable — and Monaghan's iron-fist approach to communicating with him and the public.
“I have reached out to Bill and tried to understand why this isn’t working,” Shenigo said.
The severed relationship could derail a budding cooperation among local governments, according to others involved in that effort.
One official said Monaghan's over-the-top criticism of Shenigo was "bully-like" and "counter-productive."