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YOUNGSTOWN Frustrated arena board to dissolve itself



Published: Fri, February 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The resignations weren't a major surprise.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

and ROGER G. SMITH

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS

YOUNGSTOWN -- If the arena board wasn't dissolving itself, city council would be, according to the chairman of council's buildings and grounds committee.

"In the year between the time that the last board member was seated until such time as a contract was signed, very little progress was made toward completion of the project," said Rufus Hudson, D-2nd.

Under that contract, Youngstown Civic Center Development Corp. is to function in an advisory capacity in developing the downtown project, toward which the federal and state governments have made $28 million available.

The arena board decided Thursday to meet at 4:30 p.m. next Thursday in its offices on the second floor of the Wick Building to vote on dissolving itself. The eight board members in attendance Thursday signed a letter of resignation, effective Feb. 15.

The motion to vote next week on dissolution was made by Leonard Schiavone and seconded by the Rev. Edward P. Noga.

Letter of resignation: "The situation has become an untenable environment for people of good intentions to carry out their charges," the board members wrote in their letter, which Robert Van Sickle, board chairman, read aloud.

"In recent months, it seems that the rules have continued to change in the minds of many city elected officials. The day-to-day work that we were asked to do was undermined by lack of a working contract, funding allowances and most importantly, by a lack of communication and cooperation," the letter says.

"It seems that the board has been manipulated into irrelevance," and the project "seems to be becoming a city-only effort,'' rather than a regional effort, it says.

Besides Van Sickle, Schiavone and the Rev. Mr. Noga, those on the 13-member board signing the letter were: Claire Maluso, Frank C. Watson, William Binning, Gil Peterson, vice chairman, and JoAnn Blunt, secretary.

Patrick J. Ungaro, the former mayor, said this morning he would sign the letter, too, and vote to dissolve the board.

The nine members represent two of the three appointments made by council, two of three made by the mayor, all three made by U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., and one each by Youngstown State University and the Youngstown-Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Paul A. Lyden, Mahoning County's appointment, resigned last month for similar reasons.

Absent were: Joseph R. McRae, city park and recreation director; the Rev. Kelvin Turner; and Charles P. Sammarone, city council president, who was sick and unable to attend.

No surprise: The resignations weren't a major surprise. There's been talk for months about the board possibly folding.

Ungaro said he saw this coming when the city issued ultimatums at year's end to resolve the contract.

Board members were then hoping the city would still use the group to handle the project's daily duties, he said. Recent weeks, however, showed that wasn't going to happen, Ungaro said.

Mayor George M. McKelvey issued a written statement this morning that said he will not be discouraged by any challenge faced in the project.

"Failure is not an option," he said.

Sammarone said he never saw the need for a board and that not having one shouldn't hurt the project. The city has handled other major development, such as industrial parks, he said.

"This is a project the city can do," he said.

Sammarone doesn't blame members for leaving; if they don't think they have anything to offer, they should resign, he said.

Request unmet: Van Sickle said the city hasn't responded to his requests over the last three weeks to provide the board with about $80,000 for the next six months, which he said the city had agreed to provide when the contract was signed.

"We just don't have any funding at this moment," he said.

The letter also questions why Thomas Chema of the Gateway Group of Cleveland, which developed that city's Gateway Center, a nationally known and respected developer of projects of this kind, would remove himself from the project.

"It would seem that there is something wrong with the climate locally to cause this kind of response," the letter says.

Hudson's response: But Hudson said Chema faced a dilemma in which he had to decide whether he wanted to be a consultant or to be in control of the project. He couldn't prepare specifications and then bid on the project, Hudson said, adding that Chema's departure shouldn't be interpreted as an aversion to doing business with the city.

"The project still has to be completed," said Hudson, the only member of council to vote against creating the arena board.

Hudson said the board has been wasteful of time and the taxpayers' money, having spent some $107,000 in legal fees to get articles of incorporation, a code of regulations, bylaws and an agreement with the city.

"Who else would have spent $107,000 of taxpayer money at $250 an hour for 428 hours worth of work and come up with just those few documents?" Hudson asked.

Van Sickle said he thought the only way to avoid dissolution of the board next week is for the board to "be empowered to do the job we were given and given the money to do it, without the interference of politics."




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