No one in Youngstown City Hall should be surprised by last week's revelation that the Mahoning County commissioners are seeking bids for office space for the 7th District Court of Appeals and that the court isn't obligated to remain in downtown Youngstown.
Over the past year, the four appeals judges have issued numerous warnings that the court would be forced to look outside the city for office space if a viable alternative to its fourth floor location in the county courthouse could not be found. To their credit, judges Gene Donofrio, Joseph J. Vukovich III, Cheryl Waite and Mary DeGenaro remain committed to keeping the appeals court in the downtown area, but their good intentions may not be enough.
In the words of court administrator Robert Budinsky: "There's a certain history here because the court has always been here. But we are not obligated to stay here if an opportunity presents itself otherwise."
Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey and city council must now face reality: The 7th District Court of Appeals is up for grabs. And since the district encompasses eight counties, including Mahoning and Columbiana, it is conceivable that the best bid could come from a community that hasn't even been considered. Therein lies the challenge for McKelvey and city lawmakers. Not only must they come up with office space that meets the specifications established by the commissioners, based on the needs of the judges and their 15 employees, but city officials must make sure that the location provides the biggest bang for the public buck.
Income tax loss
Why put the onus on City Hall? Because the loss of the court of appeals would translate into a major loss of income tax revenue and a further deterioration of Youngstown's importance as the largest city in the Mahoning Valley.
As we have argued on numerous occasions, government belongs in the central business district and it, therefore, behooves the decision-makers in city government to do whatever they can to keep entities such as the appeals court happy.
The fact that the judges have options should spur the McKelvey administration to find office space that meets their needs. It isn't about being bullied or being asked to accede to some unreasonable demand. The 7th District Court of Appeals has been trying for almost a year to get out of the courthouse because the space it currently occupies is essentially the same square footage used by one common pleas judge and a two-person staff.
The overcrowding has forced the appeals court to provide study cubicles for the law clerks in the actual courtroom. The cubicles are used when the court is not in session.
Last year, plans to move the court into the former Youngstown City Hall annex fell through, forcing the commissioners to seek bids. Suburban communities which have newer office buildings and ample parking are now in the game -- which Youngstown cannot afford to lose.
County Administrator Gary Kubic has said the decision to look outside the city would come only after all downtown options were fully explored. That should give McKelvey and council some hope.
In the end, however, this is a competitive process and history alone will not be enough to persuade the commissioners and the appeals court judges to only consider office space in downtown Youngstown.