There were loads of bad decisions made by public sector workers and entities in the Mahoning Valley this year, but the one that warrants special recognition involves a vote by Youngstown City Council. That action gave new meaning to the phrase “arrogance of power.”
Or, was it the arrogance of greed?
City lawmakers, those paragons of public largess, had the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to public service (with emphasis on service), but they blew it — big time.
Their vote sent a clear message to the residents of the city: We don’t trust your judgment.
Lawmakers were presented with a report from a special charter review committee that contained 17 recommendations for making city government more cost-effective and responsible to the taxpayers. Mayor Charles Sammarone and council had appointed the members of the committee.
But only four of the 17 recommendations — the most innocuous of the bunch — were placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The rest were unceremoniously cast aside. Why? Because their adoption by the voters would have forced real change upon city government, in general, and council, in particular
Among the amendments proposed by the charter review committee that were not adopted was one that would designate council members as part-time public servants required to work at least 32 hours a week. Their pay would be based on the average “full time” salary — 40 hours a week — of the residents of Youngstown.
The committee determined that the average full-time salary is $25,902 a year. Therefore, members of council would be paid $20,721 annually, compared with the $27,817.24 they now earn — with full benefits. The president of council, who now makes $28,11.24, plus benefits, would be paid $21,966.
Even with the reductions, it’s ample compensation for part-time work (a misnomer, if ever there was one.)
The amendment would also have made the benefits provided by the taxpayers to council members secondary to those they are able to receive through other sources, such as retirement, employment or a spouse.
Squelching the threat
Lawmakers obviously knew that their $27.000-plus a year salary and full benefits would have triggered an uprising at the polls. So they did what has become standard operating procedure for them: They let personal greed trump the greater good.
But the vote on the proposed charter amendments wasn’t the only action that makes city council deserving of the worst-of-the-worst designation.
Four of the seven voting members went on record as opposing the elimination of one of the three municipal court judgeships, even though Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court said the position was not necessary because the court’s caseload was lower than the comparable state average. Likewise, Gov. John Kasich showed no inclination in filling the vacancy created with the retirement of Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr., Finally, state Reps. Ronald Gerberry and Robert Hagan and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni joined Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras in pushing for the elimination of the position.
Thankfully, the opinion of the four members of council didn’t matter one iota.
Nor should council’s opinion matter when it comes to the future of the Covelli Centre, which the city can ill afford to own. Mayor Sammarone has said he wants to either lease or sell the facility, but members of council disagree.
Given their lack of credibility, they would do well to hide in the weeds.
Also worthy of special mention as worst of the worst is former Warren police officer Emanuel Nites, who seemed to have no qualms about stealing time from the taxpayers.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. After he was caught in 2009 showing up late for work or leaving work early to coach his son’s basketball team or watch his daughter’s high school basketball team, he pulled a similar stunt this year. For that, he was fired — by Police Chief Tim Bowers, who had given Nites a break three years ago. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
There were other decisions made in 2012 that triggered anger on the part of the taxpayers, and you are invited to create a list of your own and add to this column on www.vindy.com.
Happy New Year? Let’s not get carried away.