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Mayor-elect McNally is the decider

Published: Sun, December 8, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Youngstown’s soon-to-be mayor, John A. McNally IV, has chosen not to have a committee (of outstanding community leaders) screen the applicants for top level jobs in city government, which prompts an important question: Can someone who has not served as a chief executive officer be trusted to make the right decisions about staffing?

The answer: It doesn’t really matter. McNally won the November general election and will be in office for the next four years — unless something drastic occurs that would cause him to resign.

Meanwhile, the former Mahoning County commissioner and city law director has the authority to appoint department heads and to fill other positions that are not covered by civil service.

About 75 people have submitted applications for Cabinet positions, many of them already serving in Mayor Charles Sammarone’s administration. Sammarone, who chose not to seek a full four-year term, was elected city council president last month. He had held that position until August 2011 when he replaced Mayor Jay Williams, who resigned to join the Obama White House.

With no incumbent in last year’s race for mayor, McNally, the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, barely won the May primary over council President Jamael Tito Brown.

Weak challenger

He had an easier time in the general election against DeMaine Kitchen, the former chief of staff to Sammarone who was accused of sexual harassment by a city employee and had an IRS claim against him for nonpayment of taxes.

McNally takes office in January and is expected to announce his appointments beginning this week.

It is not surprising that so many department heads want to keep their jobs. The public pension system is based on the age of the employee, the number of years of service and the average of the three highest annual salaries.

While it might seem that the city of Youngstown would certainly benefit from the experience of the top managers, McNally would be doing the taxpayers a disservice by not conducting an in-depth job-performance evaluation.

His decision not to have a screening committee assist him in selecting the best and the brightest — of those who have applied, of course — places the onus on him to conduct a thorough vetting of each applicant.

The mayor-elect should not assume that just because an individual has been on the public payroll for a length of time he or she deserves to be retained.

Indeed, of all the positions McNally should be closely evaluating, two require special attention: law director and finance director. They, along with the mayor, make up the board of control.

Under the charter form of government, the board negotiates and enters into all contracts.

The three city officials are responsible for spending millions of taxpayer dollars for goods and services.

City government is a $100 million-plus business, with the residents as the shareholders. Trust is the key.

Invisible hand?

Given that the mayor-elect is keeping his own counsel — there’s no indication of an invisible hand — with regard to his appointments, the public has a right to know the criteria, such as qualifications and experience, he’s using in filling the positions.

Youngstown residents also should be told whether McNally believes that those in the upper echelon of government should live in the city. Although the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that residency cannot be a condition of employment, those who work at the will of the mayor should be required to demonstrate their commitment to the city that’s providing them with decent salaries and benefits.

They need to remember that the median income of a family of four in Youngstown is $24,000. As for retirement, public employees’ pensions are much more lucrative than what the average private sector retiree earns.

In other words, working for the city of Youngstown is a gift that keeps on giving — compliments of the taxpayers. Historically, education and qualifications have taken a back seat to political connections and family ties.

But times, they must change — or else Youngstown could easily become another Detroit.

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