True message in $50K Covelli study

One could think that Youngstown got nothing out of a $50,000 study of the Covelli Centre that was commissioned by Mayor Chuck Sammarone.

After all, the study, which was released last week, said what many people who study the city already knew and believed:

The Covelli Centre is a successful venture that is key for downtown Youngstown.

JAC Management Group, which runs the day-to-day operations of the center, is to be praised for providing “the city with a qualified industry firm with local management experience that minimized costs and improved revenue” at the facility.

The facility is performing better than peer facilities in similar Midwest markets.

Don’t sell it or lease it.

Doing one or the other was what the mayor announced last April he would like to do and what eventually led to the ordering of this $50,000 study.

You can check our archives for what I’ve written in the past, as well as the many commenters attached to those stories. Many of us have said the same — and it was for free.

So you easily could deduce that the $50,000 was a waste.

But I’m an optimist (really).

There is value in the report for the mayor, if he chooses to see it. There is a message, which is:

Do no harm.

Step softly on the overall city footprints you make and carefully consider the wisdom and agendas of those whispering in your ear.

Do a complete, significant spiffing up of the place for the next person.

That the Covelli study was his most vocal concern, and that the study came back showing he was so resoundingly off-mark, he has to digest that result like any good football coach would.

I don’t dislike the mayor.

I enjoy the bluster and the bravado. I like the finger snaps and the finger points.

Across the desk of a dismissive department head or an uncaring clerk, his hands can move effortlessly, almost orchestrally. He is heavy-metal hard-ass. Axl Sammarone. Chuck Bon Jovi. Bruce Sammsteen.

He could be a great asset for the next mayor if he just played the set list the way the band drew it up.

He’s mayor. But he was not elected mayor. He got the job by default. And further — he’s chosen not to run for mayor.

What he could be then, to the city, is the cool uncle who comes to baby-sit for the weekend while the parents head to a weekend spa.

He has been that, for example, when he gutted problems in the city attorney’s office.

He also looked at the falling-apart parking garage, learned the company ignored the city’s 30-day warning for many months, and forced them to fix it.

He is at his best if he does not overplay his role.

In the Covelli, he clearly overplayed.

And it’s important to understand that while he was doing so, here’s what has been going on:

The state can’t do an audit of 2010 city spending because of a “series of problems in city hall getting their financial information together.”

The city health department had not, as required by law, inspected city restaurants, including those at Youngstown State University — the largest population center under the city’s purview.

The city needed an outside consultant to ensure the city properly and aggressively bid out the Covelli loan — saving several hundred thousands of dollars.

A news report high- lighted how outrageously overpaid our city council is compared with seven peer cities, yet he aided and abetted the council when it ignored the plan of the city’s charter commission to curb these salaries.

Two private companies have upped their plans for downtown housing and hotels, and a college has moved to downtown offices. Yet, there is not one city initiative or working committee to shape or shepherd this population influx.

Lastly and maybe most ironic:

Though the city has navigated itself toward income of $11.5 million over the next three years — proceeds from state gambling dollars and V&M Star lease funds — there’s no plan for how to use it to fund initiatives. The fear is this windfall will disappear down the black hole of the city’s general fund.

That amount is, coincidentally, about the same owed on Covelli. I am not suggesting that the windfall should go toward the center’s debt.

But that $11 million, as it relates to the Covelli, has been ground zero for debate for what — nine years now? If $11 million is worrisome enough that people such as the mayor and those who whisper in his ear have complained about it for nine years, then why is there not an aggressive effort to properly handle this windfall of $11.5 million?

Only Councilman Paul Drennen seems interested in recognizing this windfall as needing a special plan.

The mayor’s take on what to do with all of this money?

That should be the next mayor’s job, he said.

I disagree. But if that is such great advice, then he should take it often during the next 11 months. He won’t have to wait long to test himself.

He’s following through on lease proposals for Covelli — despite the study’s suggestion not to.

And chatter is that at least one or two significant groups and/or individuals will take a shot at the bid. Maybe more.

It will be interesting to watch if he plays the role of the cool uncle and steers the process to the next elected mayor, or if he’ll dance to the whispers in his ears.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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