Mayoral smack shocking

On the side

A great loss: About a lifetime ago, Larry Wright was my mentor. As the city editor for The Palladium-Times in Oswego, N.Y., he hired me for my first daily newspaper job. I started as a summer intern there in 1988. Very quickly, Larry showed me what it was like to be a newspaperman.

He worked hard and was always aggressive. If you kept your eyes and ears open, you learned a lot. When my internship ended, I continued to work a near-full-time schedule at the newspaper during my senior year at Oswego State.

I took a job at a newspaper with four times the daily circulation of The Palladium-Times after I graduated, but it was tempting to stay in Oswego and continue to learn from Larry.

We lost touch in the mid-90s, but he found me this past summer. We had a long and great conversation, and then exchanged a few e-mails.

I was shocked and saddened to hear he died Monday. Without him, I wouldn’t be a journalist — which may make some of you curse the day I met Larry.

It’s rare to hear Youngs-town Mayor Jay Williams publicly insult someone.

It’s almost jaw-dropping to hear Williams call someone contracted to work for the city “one insignificant voice in the process as far as I’m concerned.”

Apparently there’s something about Steve Novotny, the city’s outgoing housing deconstruction coordinator, that annoys the mayor and others.

Williams wrote in an Oct. 8 e-mail that either Novotny — who raised legal questions about the lack of documentation for demolition work — apologize to a city employee he criticized “or you can clean out your desk.”

Novotny apologized, but he’s going to be cleaning out his desk at the end of the month as the city gets rid of its award-winning deconstruction program.

While an unpaid intern at the CDA, Novotny applied for a federal grant on behalf of the city to implement a housing deconstruction program. The city got the $39,000 grant last year and gave the money to Novotny to create the program.

Deconstruction systematically takes apart a vacant house by removing portions of the structure, such as entire wooden floors or chunks of brick, rather than using a traditional wrecking ball.

Those materials are diverted from landfills, and can be sold. The problems are it’s twice as expensive to deconstruct a house than demolish it, and no markets for the products have been found.

Federal money

The city spent about $100,000 in federal money to only deconstruct five houses and diverted at least 60 percent of materials from 26 other vacant homes.

Those were far short of the goals Novotny had for the program that received a national honor in September.

Novotny blamed “a lack of efficiency in the bureaucratic process in the local government” for the program’s shortcomings. He also criticized city council members and some city administrators for never showing interest in the program.

Williams said Novotny’s “frustrations” are the result of “his shortcomings and inability to work with others. The real world is a bit more than Mr. Novotny realized.”

Sean McKinney, commissioner of the city’s buildings and grounds department, an agency Novotny has criticized, wrote an Oct. 8 e-mail to him stating: “There is and [has] been [a] growing sense, either real or perceived, that you have assumed a position of moral superiority as it relates to addressing issues that are vital to the well-being of this community.”

Novotny said people should be able to question city officials about the lack of progress made in Youngstown despite 2,500 buildings demolished since 2006 without “facing intimidation and the threat of being fired.” He added that Williams insults are being done to make him a scapegoat for “the transgressions that are occurring within our city government.”

Novotny said he constantly defends his decision to stay in Youngstown to those who left the city.

“I get it now,” Novotny said of those who ask why he stays.

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