Watching Youngstown City Council members recently discuss the realignment of the seven wards brought to mind that historically poignant observation: Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Or, even more dramatically, lawmakers’ redistricting exercise could be likened to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The bottom line: The city of Youngstown is imploding, according to all important criteria that define the health of a community, but rather than tackle the real problems, members of council are satisfied nibbling at the edges. Why?
The seven lawmakers and the council president earn an obscene amount of money for the part-time work they do. Do not forget that Youngstown’s population is 65,405, which represents the highest percentage loss among the nation’s 729 communities of at least 50,000 residents.
Note also that the population stood at 66,982 in 2010, according to the Census.
Finally, there is nothing city government can do to stop the decline. People just don’t want to live in Youngstown — not even those who are feeding at the public trough.
When residency requirements were declared unconstitutional, city workers were like rats escaping a sinking ship. But, they certainly didn’t give up their public jobs.
HIGH SALARIES FOR PART-TIME POSTS
Against that backdrop, consider that members of council now pocket $27,817 and full benefits; the council president makes $28,110 and full benefits.
The median income of a family of four in the city is $24,000.
But here’s an uncomfortable truth about the city’s population: A majority are on fixed incomes — either pensions, Social Security or welfare.
Thus, when council takes up the heady issue of realigning the populations of the seven wards, they are turning a blind eye — money always trumps public service — to the very real, seemingly intractable problems confronting the city.
Rather than trying to figure out how to divide the declining population among the seven wards, the focus should be on downsizing city government.
For instance, Youngstown does not need seven wards and a president of council. Its declining population does not justify a legislative branch that existed when there were more than 100,000 living in the city.
There should also be an acknowledgement that the lawmakers are overpaid and, therefore, an across-the-board reduction is in order. It would not pay to make members of council full-time positions because the more they’re around, the more mischief they can get into.
In fact, members of council can restore their faith with the voters by agreeing to place the 13 amendments to the Home Rule Charter they unabashedly shelved last year, even though the amendments were recommended by a commission appointed by the mayor and council.
The charter review commission did a great public service in developing the 17 recommendations — four comparably innocuous ones were approved last November — because the status quo of city government is no longer sustainable or acceptable.
Protecting status quo
Members of council did not reject the 13 recommendations because they wanted to strengthen them or drum up public support for them. Rather, they wanted to protect the status quo, which includes huge salaries and benefits unjustifiably fattening their wallets.
The recommendation dealing with lawmakers’ compensation would reduce the annual pay from $27,817 to $20,721; council president would make $21,966, down from the current $28,110.
The amendment would also make the benefits provided by the taxpayers secondary to those they are able to receive through other sources, such as retirement, employment or a spouse.
The current deliberation about the ward redistricting is required by a charter amendment approved last November, but there’s no reason why council members cannot commit to placing the 13 amendments on the November general election ballot.