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Hagan, Williams spar over downtown arena



Published: Thu, July 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Jay Williams said the Democratic nominee's statements are ignorant.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Apparently two of the Youngstown mayoral candidates aren't playing nicely with each other anymore.

State Sen. Robert F. Hagan, the Democratic nominee, took the gloves off Wednesday and jabbed Jay Williams, who quit his job in April as the city's Community Development Agency director to run as an independent candidate, over the city's convocation center.

While working for the city, Williams administered the $26.8 million grant Youngstown received for the center from the U.S. Department of Urban Development. Williams' job was to make sure the federal funds were used in compliance with HUD regulations.

The current city administration announced last week that the arena's cost may be as high as $45.38 million, and the city may have to borrow up to $12.1 million to pay to fund the facility.

"The managers at city hall, and he was one of them, have to address a number of issues on the arena," Hagan said of Williams. "There are a lot of questions unanswered, and it happened in this administration. When did [Williams] lose control over management of the facility?"

In response, Williams said Hagan appears not to have a clue how city government works.

"Mr. Hagan's comments, as I understand them, show a complete ignorance of my role with respect to the management of HUD funds," Williams said. "My role was chief compliance officer of those funds."

Openly critical

Hagan and Williams, two of the six candidates running for mayor in November, have not been openly critical of each other during the campaign. Both have primarily focused on their strengths.

However, that all changed Wednesday.

Hagan took the first shot, saying Williams, as CDA director, should have questioned the cost increases and debt for the convocation center.

"You have to question what were the managers thinking at city hall," Hagan said. "He's always talking about his management skills. There was mismanagement involved in this."

Hagan said he's not implying that Williams is "directly responsible" for the arena's financial issues.

"But he was one of the managers, and he didn't say anything," Hagan said. "How much more money is the city going to spend on this?"

Williams' response

Williams said city officials asked him about the $1.5 million purchase of the arena land, done without an appraisal.

Williams said there is no requirement in HUD regulations for an appraisal of the land, but he told city officials it would be prudent to have one. They ignored his advice.

"My role was to ensure that every dime of those [federal] funds were spent in accordance with HUD guidelines," Williams said. "I challenge [Hagan] or anyone else to find a dime spent on the project not in compliance with HUD guidelines."

Williams said he isn't justifying the cost overruns on the project.

"But to attribute that to my role as compliance officer is asinine," he said.

Williams said pinning the financial issue of the arena on him is equivalent to blaming Hagan for the multimillion-dollar scandal at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation because Hagan is a state senator.

"That would be ridiculous," Williams said.

Hagan said he wouldn't hesitate to close the arena if it became a significant financial drain on the city.

The arena is scheduled to open Nov. 4, four days before the mayoral election.

Contingency plans

Williams said he'd work to make the arena a success, and wouldn't allow it to drain the city's finances. On Tuesday, he wouldn't go as far as saying he'd close it.

However, on Wednesday Williams made it clear that if the arena fails, all options -- including closing and selling the facility -- would be considered if he's elected mayor.

Williams recently paid to have two large campaign signs with his picture placed on windows at the Stambaugh Building at East Federal Street and Wick Avenue. The building is next to Hagan's campaign headquarters.

The Hagan sign, which includes his picture, at the Democratic candidate's headquarters is about half the size of Williams' sign.

Williams said his campaign paid for the sign because of its location to a busy intersection.

"But signs don't get you elected, issues do," he said.

skolnick@vindy.com




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