Hagan presents relief plan after heated council debate
Members accused each other of playing political games.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The stated intention was for city council to set an example in the Mahoning Valley as a unified group focused on helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Instead, council spent about 20 minutes at a special meeting Friday debating and arguing about whether to let state Sen. Robert F. Hagan, the Democratic nominee for mayor in the November election, speak about his proposal to relocate to Youngstown some people who lost everything in the hurricane.
Some members of council accused others of playing politics regarding the dispute with tempers flaring on occasion.
Councilman Pro Tempore Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, said council rules do not permit political candidates to address the body. But Councilman Mark Memmer, D-7th, pointed out that council was technically in recess when Hagan was to speak, so no rule would be broken.
Atkinson then called for a vote to end the meeting. Councilmen Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, and Paul Pancoe, D-6th, supported the motion. Those objecting to the motion were Memmer, Councilwoman Carol Rimedio-Righetti, D-4th, and Councilman Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st. Councilman Michael Rapovy, D-5th, didn't attend Friday's meeting.
With the vote tied, council President James Fortune Sr. voted to allow Hagan to speak. Atkinson objected saying the council president is not authorized to break ties according to rules of council and the city charter. Fortune overruled Atkinson's objection.
Before the meeting, Hagan sent a letter to Mayor George M. McKelvey asking him to contact disaster relief authorities to immediately relocate to Youngstown those who lost everything in the hurricane. Hagan said there are many vacant but livable homes in the city that could be offered to those people.
McKelvey didn't stay to hear Hagan speak saying efforts to help those in the Gulf Coast were being coordinated by the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and by officials in other states. Also, Mahoning County officials are working on a host-family initiative.
While addressing council, Hagan said he spoke to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who would look to obtain federal money to relocate people who survived the hurricane to about 75 vacant houses in Youngstown.
Hagan said he was dumbfounded by the heated discussion among council members about letting him speak, particularly because the debate was twice as long as his presentation.
"They're not getting anything done doing that," he said.
Pancoe, whose sister lives 45 miles north of New Orleans, was more blunt.
"To hear all this political bull -- is disgusting," he said. "I'm totally disgusted."
The special meeting lasted about 90 minutes, and council unanimously voted to express its support to assist with disaster relief for those impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
Atkinson said council broke two rules and set a bad precedent by doing so.
Tom Will, a member of the Mahoning Chapter of the Red Cross, told council the agency is looking to bring about 50 to 60 people with ties to this area to the Valley, perhaps permanently.