Youngstown events director suspended after jazz fest complaints

By David Skolnick


City council is suspending its downtown director without pay for five days because she “created conflict and confusion which undermined the” recent Youngs-town Jazz Fest.

Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th and president pro tem, and Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, whose ward includes downtown, signed the letter on behalf of council that suspends Lyndsey Hughes, the city’s downtown director of events, special projects and marketing, for a “number of complaints regarding your operation of the Jazz Fest” on July 14.

Hughes’ suspension begins Monday, the day after the conclusion of the Greater Youngstown Italian Festival in downtown’s Central Square, the same location as the Jazz Fest.

Hughes will lose about $790 of her annual base salary of $41,124.50. She’s served in the job since Dec. 8, 2008.

“We feel this is an appropriate action,” Ray said. “We received complaints and we looked into them. Council agrees [the suspension] is appropriate disciplinary action.”

The letter requires Hughes now to provide a monthly written report to council with a status report on all events Hughes is planning, and that she must be prepared to talk about those issues at council meetings. She said she had no problem with that new policy.

When asked about the suspension, Hughes said, “I’m not happy about it at all. I was asked to put on a fantastic event and that’s what I did. I’m not happy with the suspension.”

Besides council clerks, Hughes’ job — technically called “Federal Plaza director” on the city’s payroll and master-salary ordinance — is the only city position that reports to city council, which has the power to hire and fire those holding that post. The position’s primary responsibilities are to coordinate and promote certain downtown events and provide assistance to other downtown events.

The initial problem that led to Hughes’ getting suspended was a shortage of funding by the city for the jazz festival, according to the disciplinary letter from council.

“Of particular concern to council is that, upon learning that the expected funding from outside sources would not exist, you did not request additional city funding or in any fashion convey this information to council. Your attempts to resolve the matter without input from city council created conflict and confusion which undermined the event,” the letter reads.

Two companies run by Gerald H. Beulah Jr., also known as Jere B, were working with the city to promote this show and had handled the two previous festivals. Beulah complained last week to city council that Hughes waited until just 17 days before the event to make “it absolutely clear” she was having another company — Gatta Productions — produce this year’s show.

After the festival, Mark Taylor, chief financial officer of the NYO Property Group, wrote council members that numerous tenants at the company’s Erie Terminal Place apartments couldn’t get access to the building’s parking lot because several downtown streets were closed.

“This is not the first time this type of situation has occurred,” he wrote. “We are rarely contacted ahead of time by any person involved with planning these events. As a major stakeholder in the downtown area, we find this disappointing.”

Also, the owner of the Avalon Downtown pizzeria at 17 W. Federal St., which is about 50 feet from the festival’s entrance gate, sent a letter to council President Jamael Tito Brown with a variety of concerns.

Those include the street in front of the business being closed without prior notification, not being asked to participate as a vendor, Avalon customers not being permitted to bring the business’s boxes into the event, and being told by Hughes that night that she wasn’t aware the business was interested in participating.

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