By William K. Alcorn
Mahoning and Trumbull United Way leaders say they will continue to look for ways to work together despite a last-minute and unexpected defeat of a proposed merger of the organizations.
Revival of merger talks is a dead issue for now, however.
Leaders of the United Ways of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and Trumbull County, dubbed the Vision for the Valley Team, met frequently for nearly a year working out a merger proposal that included equal board representation from each county and the ability of donors to designate where they wanted their money spent.
But, about 10 months into the process, Trumbull United Way’s bylaws committee said a donor vote was required to dissolve the local organization, a step needed before merging.
According to reports, leaders from the Mahoning and Trumbull groups were unaware of the requirement, and despite the merger receiving approval by boards of both organizations, Trumbull donors rejected the merger July 26 by a 51-35 vote.
“Had we known it was not a board decision, we would have had town-hall meetings in Youngstown and Warren to inform donors on what a new United Way would look like,” said Robert Hannon, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.
The question now is what happens next with both organizations.
It is important to show a unified front and work together on financial campaigns, Hannon said.
“The bottom line is helping people in the Mahoning Valley, and once we get past the hurt feelings, developing an outline for a plan to work together in the future,” Hannon said.
In the short term, he said the focus is on the Mahoning campaign. “We didn’t get into this out of desperation. We’re doing well and will continue to do well and continue to move forward,” Hannon said.
He described a conference call Aug. 1 of the Vision for the Valley Team, consisting of United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and United Way of Trumbull County officials, conducted less than a week after the merger rejection as a “candid hour.”
“From my perspective, we could potentially work together on a few projects, but full-blown merger is out,” Hannon said.
For instance, the Mahoning United Way’s Success by Six program for preschool children has been expanded into Trumbull County in the LaBrae and Niles school districts.
“We wanted to do more, but we can’t without the Trumbull County dollars,” said Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning/Trumbull AFL-CIO Council and 2012 chairman of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.
John Guarnieri, chairman of the Trumbull chapter’s board of directors, said the Trumbull board will have a better understanding of where it can work together with Mahoning after it meets in the near future, he said.
Guarneiri said he hopes all United Way donors, including those who have businesses and employees in both counties, will continue to support their respective United Way.
“We could look at melding the best practices of both organizations in the delivery of human services,” said Thomas J. Krysiek, United Way of Trumbull County president and chief executive officer.
Also, he said his board is always looking for ways to better the organization.
For instance, he said the Trumbull United Way has implemented efficiencies such as staff reduction, employee pay cuts and reduction in health-insurance premiums.
Also, Krysiek said, measurement of a United Way isn’t based solely on the money it raises; it is also its impact on the community.
For example, he said Trumbull United Way offers a prescription discount care program that has saved county residents some $1.1 million.
Regarding the donor vote, Krysiek said he hopes it wasn’t distrust of Mahoning County that caused them to reject the merger.
Instead, he believes strong pride in a local community presence in addressing the needs of local residents was at the heart of the vote along with a belief that bigger is not necessarily better.
In Mahoning County, there never was a desire to take over the Trumbull County United Way. It was two United Ways trying to do a better job for all the people, Padisak said.
“A lot of misinformation was put out by people in Trumbull County to stop the merger, which is sad. They had their own agenda, and it wasn’t about the people’s need. Proponents of the merger in Trumbull County were stabbed in the back by their fellow board members,” Padisak said.
“I think the Trumbull donor vote was the same old thing. People have a negative feeling about mergers in our Valley. Regionalism is a dirty word here,” Padisak said.
He said, however, he hopes Trumbull United Way does well and turns things around.