By David Skolnick
The keys to success in running city government are accountability and responsibility, says Mayor Charles Sammarone.
That means, he said, complimenting city workers when they do a good job and writing letters of reprimand when they don’t.
“When people do something wrong, someone has to tell them, just like you tell them when they do a great job,” Sammarone said.
As for letters of reprimand: “You need to document what’s happening if you are forced to fire someone. The last thing I want to do is terminate someone. But you have to have a system in place to improve how we operate around here.”
Those in the administration, particularly department heads, who fail to meet the mayor’s expectations can find themselves in his office for a discussion — sometimes heated.
Sammarone admits he can get angry if he has to repeat himself and sometimes has used profanity “depending on who it is. But I’ve had a few say it to me.”
The mayor said his goal is to provide excellent service to the city, and if employees are not doing their best, they’ll hear about it.
The Vindicator recently received copies of letters of reprimand and discipline written to employees by Sammarone, mayor since August, as part of an open-records request.
William D’Avignon, director of the city’s Community Development Agency, had letters of reprimand written by Sammarone on March 7 and April 3. The latter letter “serves as your last warning,” Sammarone wrote.
In the March 7 letter that summarized a meeting between the two earlier that day, Sammarone wrote that D’Avignon was to get rid of a temporary employee who had been on his office’s payroll for “an extended period of time.”
The mayor added: “I also reminded you at the meeting that you are not to communicate with the media without having received prior approval from me.”
When contacted by The Vindicator, D’Avignon declined to comment.
In the April 3 letter, Sammarone criticized D’Avignon for making changes to the CDA budget without the mayor’s consent.
“I discovered that you violated direct orders once again,” the letter reads. “This conduct on your part constitutes insubordination.”
The letter states D’Avignon “made a recommendation to outsource a very good program [sidewalk improvements] but yet made no recommendation to fund it.”
In the letter, Sammarone wrote, “This type of behavior is an ongoing problem with you. I have tried to work with you since becoming mayor in August of 2011. I have seen no improvement in your management and communication skills.”
Sammarone wrote that if “this type of behavior continues, your employment with the city of Youngstown will be terminated. This letter serves as your last warning.”
When asked about the letter, Sammarone said, “I’m seeing improvement with Bill, just not as quickly as I like.”
Sammarone added that he doesn’t plan to fire D’Avignon.
“Sometimes you write something hoping [people] respond to it — to light a fire under people,” he said. “I’m trying to improve job performance.”
Charles Shasho, deputy director of the public works department, also has two letters of reprimand from the mayor.
The first came Sept. 15 for giving Sammarone incorrect information about code violations on a South Champion Street building. The mayor said that led him to pass along the wrong information to the media.
“It will not be tolerated,” Sammarone wrote.
The second reprimand letter is dated Feb. 17 stating Shasho’s “failure to perform” in connection with not fixing street lights at the Himrod Avenue exit on Interstate 680 and along West Federal Street. The latter, Sammarone wrote, “put the public’s safety at risk.”
“Shasho is an engineer; he never had any classes in management,” Sammarone said. “He admitted his management skills are weak. But I’ve got him going in the right direction. He’s coming around the way I want. He’s getting more results.”
Shasho declined to comment to the newspaper about his letters.
Also, Sean McKinney, buildings and grounds commissioner, and Kyle Miasek, deputy finance director, each received one letter from Sammarone.
McKinney’s letter was a “confirmation of a verbal warning” because his job requires him “to be accessible to the mayor at all times.” He has a city-paid cellphone for that purpose. Sammarone wrote that McKinney didn’t answer or return three of his calls.
Miasek received a “formal reprimand” because he didn’t monitor a company that managed the city-owned 20 Federal Place, Sammarone wrote. That company, Louis F. DeVicchio and Associates, was using space at the West Federal Street building for other business without paying rent, Sammarone wrote.
In a Dec. 8 response letter, Miasek wrote that he informed the previous administration, run by Jay Williams, of the issue, and nothing was done.
“I applaud your diligence in seeking to correct any abuses of the terms of the aforementioned contract, but it is fundamentally unfair to selectively discipline me for matters over which I had no control or authority,” Miasek wrote.
McKinney and Miasek declined to comment to The Vindicator.
Sammarone said he’s had no issues with Miasek since and that McKinney’s work has improved.
Fifteen other city employees received letters from the mayor for not properly supervising workers, for being insubordinate to their bosses, intimidating coworkers and careless driving.