Youngstown OK’d for Obama cities project — finally

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By Ashley Luthern


After five months in limbo, city officials confirmed Thursday that Youngstown will receive federal assistance from the U.S. Depart-ment of Housing and Urban Development.

Youngstown is the seventh city chosen for President Barack Obama’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative (SC2), which is designed to give cities additional resources and spur economic growth. Youngstown joins Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, Chester, Pa., Fresno, Calif., and Memphis, Tenn.

The other six cities received notification of their acceptance in July, but uncertainty in Youngstown’s city government as then-Mayor Jay Williams prepared to become the so-called auto czar in the Obama administration delayed the process.

“We held our assessment of Youngstown in abeyance during the mayoral election and transition,” wrote M. Kristin Johnsen, leader of the program’s Northeast Ohio division, in a letter this week.

Mayor Charles Sammarone said he tasked his administrative assistant DeMaine Kitchen with approaching Derek Douglas, White House director of urban affairs, and other federal officials about the initiative.

“We showed people we were working with that we were sincere. It was not based on [Williams] or anyone else,” Sammarone said.

The mayor and Kitchen met with a federal team in October.

“They were able to rethink their position and un-pause Youngstown,” Kitchen said.

The initiative will help with an operational efficiency study of city government at all levels.

“It looks at how efficiently government is run and how to be competitive economically and maintain fiscal sustainability. It will be a top-to-bottom study of city hall,” Kitchen said.

Sammarone, who has stressed accountability during his tenure, said previous internal-performance auditors were not a good indicators “for where we need to go.”

“It’s long overdue for experts to come in and make suggestions about Youngstown’s government,” Sammarone said.

The Strong Cities program also will station an individual in its fellowship program in Youngstown for two to three years. The fellow will assist in planning and new economic development.

“We are excited about moving forward with SC2 in Youngstown by taking the next step,” Johnsen wrote.

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