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This editorial will have a familiar ring to it.
We’ve had to say the same thing far too many times before about judges, a sheriff, a prosecutor, a commissioner and a congressman.
And what we’ve said is this: An elected public official who has been indicted for criminal wrongdoing in connection with the conduct of his office should resign.
He is presumed innocent until proved guilty for purposes of the criminal law. But holding public office is a civic privilege and a trust — not a right. An indictment on a criminal offense raises a serious question as to the officeholder’s ability to continue to serve the public.
We do not make the call lightly for an indicted public official to step down. We understand that someone’s election is a powerful statement of the public’s confidence in the individual. But it is the responsibility of the elected official to repay that trust by scrupulously protecting the public’s interests in public and private.
There is sufficient reason to believe that Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally IV and county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino have placed their own well-being and that of political benefactors above their duty to the public. The specifics of a 41-page indictment are reported on the news pages in considerable detail.
The grand jury found probable cause to believe that McNally, Sciortino, former county treasurer John B. Reardon, former county Job and Family Services Director John Zachariah, Atty. Martin Yavorcik and Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. and Flora Cafaro, part-owners of the Cafaro Co., engaged in various levels of criminal behavior that, if unchecked, pervert the political process.
At the center of the indictments is Anthony Cafaro’s interest in his company’s continuing to lease office space to the county and to simultaneously thwart an effort by a majority of the board of county commissioners to purchase the old Southside Medical Center, now known as Oakhill Renaissance Place, rather than continue to rent.
Blurring public and private
Certainly Cafaro had the right to publicly defend his company’s lease of Garland Plaza to the county and to criticize the county’s proposed purchase of Oakhill as the new site for the Job and Family Services offices. And Cafaro was outspoken.
But the indictments allege that he went beyond his public opposition, entering into private dealings with three elected officeholders and an appointed public official. They wove a web that came to encompass various acts, including conspiracy, perjury, bribery, money laundering, tampering with records, disclosure of confidential information, conflict of interest, filing a false financial disclosure statement, and soliciting or accepting improper compensation.
Others have already paid something of a price since a special prosecutor took up this case. Reardon gave up a state job in Columbus and returned to Youngstown. Zachariah is no longer in charge of Job and Family Services, and Cafaro announced his retirement as president of the Cafaro Co. Only McNally and Sciortino remain in the same positions of public power and trust, receiving the same public payroll checks, as they did before the grand jury began its investigation. And that should end.
We suffer no illusions about the likelihood of McNally and Sciortino going off quietly to find private employment while they prepare for their defense. But we make the call for them to do the right thing nonetheless and would hope others who value good government will do likewise.
The continuing development and improvement of Oakhill as an office complex remains a priority for county government, and it is clear that McNally and Sciortino cannot play a role in that process, at least not with straight faces.