There is a possibility that the city of Youngstown will file a lawsuit to challenge the evaluation process used to distribute $7.2 million under the State Issue 2 program, but even if it does not, members of the District 6 Public Works Integrating Committee have an obligation to publicly explain how they determine which infrastructure projects in Mahoning and Trumbull counties will be funded.
This isn't about one mayor being upset because a project he deemed important to the Mahoning Valley's growth didn't make the final list. Nor is it about Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey endorsing the process in previous years -- by his silence -- when his city's projects were approved and now crying foul because things haven't gone his way. And it certainly isn't about there being no complaints in the past from those communities that did not make the cut.
What is at stake here is the credibility of the committee and whether its actions are in keeping with the state law that created the state-funded infrastructure improvement program.
McKelvey has asked for an explanation, supported, if possible, by the work sheets of individual committee members, for why the Federal Street reconstruction project in downtown Youngstown is not among the 31 that will receive money. McKelvey argues that not only does the federal government recognize the importance of the project, as evidenced by the $2.08 million grant from Washington, but the reconstruction of Federal Street is part of the overall revitalization of the central business district.
He rightly points out that the Mahoning County commissioners have endorsed the Federal Street project and are working closely with Youngstown city officials and Youngstown State University on the long-term development of downtown. Thus, he wonders, why the project received only 10 points out of a possible 30 in the category that focuses on the regional importance of a project.
By way of comparison, he points to road projects in Canfield and Braceville that were deemed to be of greater regional importance than the Federal Street reconstruction.
Mahoning County Engineer Richard Marsico, chairman of the District 6 committee, says the panel will consider clarifying the regional-importance criterion, but that isn't the only problem with the evaluation process. We're disturbed that there is no formal procedure that every committee follows in determining how many points a project should receive in each of the categories.
Such a record is important in the event a challenge is lodged, as McKelvey is doing, and to ensure that the selection of projects is made without regard to politics or influence peddling.
That said, we do believe that every community submitting an application for State Issue 2 money has a responsibility to make the case for the project and lobby for support. Youngstown city officials acknowledge that they did not conduct any kind of a campaign to ensure that committee members had a clear understanding of the Federal Street reconstruction.