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Intrigue veils race for mayor

Published: Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Retired Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes’ decision to drop out of the race for mayor and support DeMaine Kitchen prompts this question: Has Hughes been promised a job in a Kitchen administration?

The chief of staff to Mayor Charles Sammarone would do well to reconsider any commitment made to Hughes. Why? The residents of the city will not look kindly upon the retiree again slopping at the public trough. He had his fill when he was on the public payroll.

Consider: He worked in the police department for more than 34 years, which means he is now receiving a huge pension — more than 60 percent of the average of the three highest years of income? — and health care coverage. When he retired in March 2011, Hughes’ salary was $87,915.

It should be noted that he continued as police chief through the summer of that year.

But it isn’t only his pension that must give Kitchen pause about bringing Hughes back to city government.

Because of the indefensible way public-sector employees are able to legally game the taxpayer-supported system, Hughes walked away in the fall of 2011 with a severance check of $65,539.69. It was for unused sick leave, accumulated time, unused vacation days and longevity and hazardous duty pay.

To put that severance check in perspective, the median income for a family of four in Youngstown is $24,000.

But Hughes’ mother lode doesn’t end there.

Large payout

In 2003 — three years before he was appointed chief — he signed up for a state retirement program called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). The program allows police officers to accumulate a large lump sum of money for retirement. Those who sign up have up to eight years to retire.

Hughes walked away with $500,000.

Kitchen, a former member of council, cannot be blind to the fact that taxpayers’ negative view of government is driven, in large part, by the belief that public employees don’t earn their keep and that when they retire have pensions and health care that are but a dream for many in the private sector.

Without a doubt, Hughes’ decision to withdraw — he was running as an independent — and his endorsement of Kitchen is politically significant.

Having two popular black candidates for mayor on the November ballot would have split the black vote to the benefit of John A. McNally IV, the Democratic Party nominee.

McNally, a former county commissioner, defeated another black candidate, council President Jamael Tito Brown, in the primary election.

There are two other candidates in the November race, but their presence is not significant.

The contest will be between McNally — he spent a whopping $88,463 to garner 3,292 votes in May, while Brown spent a lot less and received 3,142 votes — and Kitchen.

McNally’s 150-vote margin of victory reveals a vulnerability at the polls that may not be easy to overcome.

It was suggested in this space shortly after the May primary that the so-called Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal continues to haunt McNally. He, along with other current and former county officials and a prominent area businessman, were criminally charged by the state for their involvement in the scandal.

The charges were ultimately dropped but can be refiled. McNally insists that as commissioner he did nothing wrong in opposing the county’s purchase of Renaissance Place, the former South Side Medical Center.

One of its tenants is the county’s Job and Family Services agency that was relocated from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on the East Side.

With that dark cloud hanging over him, McNally knows that outspending his general-election opponents does not guarantee a win.

Party’s role

Turnout will be the key, and given that the black-white divide in voting remains a political reality, McNally will have to depend on the Democratic Party to generate interest in the race.

As the nominee, he can expect financial support, but whether the party faithful in the city are willing to ignore the Oakhill Renaissance controversy remains to be seen.

All bets will be off if the special state prosecutors decide to file the criminal charges again.

For Kitchen, the primary election highlighted McNally’s political weakness.

How he takes advantage of that will speak volumes about his campaign.


1Letstryagain(218 comments)posted 3 years ago

The outrage towards public pension excesses and double dipping after retiring is misplaced. I will not blame the public employees, but the legislators that allow for such a large loophole, and those responsible for negotiating contracts on the taxpayers behalf.

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2jailbirds93(16 comments)posted 3 years ago

To Bertram de Dummy:

Stop swallowing the BS Betras is feeding you! Hughes made a deal for a job but not in City Hall, and Betras should know since he engineered it.

McNally ought to be fuming that Betras screwed him like this, but it's more important to him who's the next prosecutor and judge than the next mayor of Youngstown.

John, Mike and Lisa all told us to vote for Betras, what a mistake for everyone.

Finally, Mr. de Dummy, just because you say Betras isn't corrupt doesn't mean it's true. I predict when the indictments come out you will be eating your words.

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3questionreality(736 comments)posted 3 years ago

Who cares about what Bert has to say as long as "Mount Carmel has the receipe[sic]."

Maybe Hughes should insist he be arrested for "legally gaming the taxpayer-supported system."

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4greevey(23 comments)posted 3 years ago

The only "dark cloud hanging over" is the one over Betram's career as a journalist. His lack of objectivity as a journalist and creativity as a writer has reached an all new level. Betram truly has a warped sense of reality. It's time to snap out of it! The county's blunder in spending $20+ million on Oakhill is in the past. If anything, McNally should be applauded for being the lone commissioner to oppose what has proven to be a financial black hole for the county and those workers who now have to work in the dungeon called Oakhill.

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5BigJim2234(57 comments)posted 3 years ago

As far as Betras - he doesn't even know a minority person in youngstown. He is no help.
The party will try to Gardner support through cash to local churches.

McKelvey / Williams never had races.
Sammarone took many jobs to stay out.
No stories then.

Bottom line is Kitchen is a slight favorite now.
The minority community sees it just needs to vote and he wins.

Bigger question is will the power to be - get kitchen out?

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6wraz(15 comments)posted 3 years ago

Stay tuned people Bert is doing his usual great job digging into relevant issues like Jim Traficant the possible building of the new convention center and next week will have the target date for the much anticipated finishing of 711 connector!!! We should be demanding better from our Vindicator than old wore out stories and abusing his duties attacking people who actually help our Valley!!! Shut Up please!!!!!!

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7TERRAPINST(321 comments)posted 3 years ago

Hey Flick! What's your concivtion for again? Was that expunged? If there are any prison sentences in the future you could possibly do that prison consulting like Madoff utilized prior to his sentence. I hear there's a buck in that. Just a thought.

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8kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

Knightcap makes a very good point: most times it makes better economic sense to put up a new building than to retrofit an old facility like Oakhill (and, of course, the McGuffey Mall was hopeless: I was in that place, years ago, and, I thought- who the Hell is managing this place- The Munster Family?- no evidence of maintenance at all, it was pitiful- then I remembered it was being maintained by the Cafaro Family- same people that ran the Eastwood Mall!?- what better evidence of the contempt shown by the Cafaro Corporation for minority neighborhoods than the difference between those two facilities.)

In my view, the argument between Oakhill or the McGuffey Mall should have been answered with a line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: "A Plague on Both their Houses".

Taxpayer's money would have been better spent on a new building.

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9kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

Fontana says Hughes dropped out (of the Mayors race) because he (among other reasons): "hasn't yet mastered the English Language".

That may be, but the man is obviously a financial wizard- the way (with help from the Public Employee Pension System) he engineered a cushy retirement for himself- I especially like that half Mill "nest egg" from DROP.

I don't know what DROP stands for, except maybe as part of a phrase that shows Public Employees attitude toward the Taxpayer and workers in the Private Sector: DROP DEAD!

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10kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

Public Employees remind me of Fleas on a Dog- they suck and suck and suck- until eventually there's no Blood left- the Dog dies- and so do the Fleas.

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11kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

The City of Detroit recently went belly-up- declaring Chapter Nine Insolvency: I wonder how much of that had to do with the greed of it's Public Employees?

It seems that no matter how cash-strapped a city is, the unionized Public Employees insist on getting more for themselves. "Fleas on a Dog..." right?

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12kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

Public employees enjoy the best of both worlds- they operate as a monopoly (how many YPD's to choose from?) and, yet, they also have powerful Unions. Must be nice.

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13kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

Comparing private sector pensions- for average workers- to the ones enjoyed by Public Employees is like comparing dog food to Caviar.

I don't know how many private sector workers can accumulate all their sick days and then get paid for them as a lump sum. I thought sick days were for days when you were too sick to work- as compensation for lost income- but getting paid, and then collecting sick pay- on top of it- Sounds Like a Scam to Me!

Also, how about the $500.000 payment dished out to Jim Hughes under the DROP program? I'd like to know more about that (before calling it a scam). How does it work- was it entirely his money invested (similar to a 401k) or was it some kind of a "matching fund"- another one of the little perks exclusively reserved for Public Employees?

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14kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

I looked up DROP and it is a scam- double-dipping pure and simple. You keep working- drawing a salary- at the same time drawing pension benefits which go into a fund accruing tax free interest. No private sector pension (for average workers) has anything like it.

For anyone who would like more information an article in the Warren-Trib,- 1-6-11 titled: "Discontinue the Drop pay Program" can supply it.

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15fd6636(289 comments)posted 3 years ago

Kurt W: While talking about perks in public service......... How bout some private perks......... Bonuses, buying of shares, vacations on the "company", which is a corporate tax write off, GIVIING of shares to kiss asses, who pays in the end for that?? WE also!!! Its called price increases. I didn't hear you bitchen in 2008!!! Who caused the near fatal crash?? Police? Sanitation workers?? I don't think so. Sounds like you applied for a public job when no one in the private sector wanted you, you didn't get it, and your pissed?? You chose your path. Detroit was full of greed, but not all was the employees you so blame for. This BS goes on in the Private sector also. they call it ceo buy outs when they get caught dirty and "step down" Oh buy the way, when public employees retire, they don't get the Millions to "step down" with the usual millions in stock options that drain private companies bankrupt. so, quit your bitterness of being overlooked and know facts instead of your opinions!

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16kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

You both make a valid point. And to be honest I have nothing but the greatest respect for Public Safety Workers- Police, Fire, Paramedics, etc.- I live in Austintown and I have always voted "yes" for Levies that concern Public Safety- Police and Fire- it's too important to skimp and, you are right, you do get what you pay for.

You saw in the Zimmerman case what can happen when an untrained- or semi-trained person- assumes police service- tragedy; policing is highly skilled and potentially dangerous and should be well-rewarded- same is true of Firefighters (imagine the consequences if you had amateurs like George Z fighting fires- I hate to think...).

As far as Jim Hughes and the DROP payment- I don't know- verdict is mixed on that program- whether good or bad. The Warren-trib article I cited didn't think so- maybe the Vindy can address the issue as well.... (I used word Scam to describe program somewhat, hastily, I revise and say I have my doubts about program, but I reserve judgment...)

P.S. No ,I never did apply for a Public Service job - and am not embittered or malcontent. I worked in the Photo Industry and am retired (I do handyman work part-time- mostly I clean drains- but, my real ambition has always been to write Newspaper Editorials where, I feel, my plumbing experience is highly applicable.)

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17kurtw(1829 comments)posted 3 years ago

I do think first part of my comment is valid- where I talk about "lump-sum" payment for unused sick days. I know the Unions negotiated that for Public Employees and there's nothing wrong with retiring workers, such as Mr. Hughes, taking the payment- I would, too, it's a wonderful benefit- from their point of view.

From the Taypayers point of view, maybe not so good. It's like being payed double for the same work- doesn't seem logical.

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18wraz(15 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

Kurt please go back to your union job...or are you working while you're blabbing about nothing and talking "corporate greed" We have no money to fund Jimmy or any other government parachute
employees with these ridiculous packages and maybe hire him back! The last time I checked Government jobs were funded by us and these big bad greedy companies are privately and public owned and make freakin PROFITS while paying large amounts of taxes and fees and are held to regulations beyond comprehension!!! The point is this reporter having zero objectivity and needs to move on or write a reality series where everyday he gets up and continues these time machine investigations that bring us clips from Philomena and Chance and keeps trying to go back to the good old days and I'm sure you will be glued to your 25 inch console/stereo

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19wraz(15 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

I was referring to the post by "the otherside not Kurt

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20kurtw(1829 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

Look, I said in my posts I routinely support funding for safety forces- Police and Fire- in Austintown where I live. Every time I see a squad car patrolling our neighborhood- it gives me a good feeling and every time I see the Fire Department pull their gleaming red trucks out of the garage- it gives me a good feeling- because I know those people are out there protecting me and other residents. I believe they should be well compensated.

I do take issue, however, with the matter of being able to accumulate sick days and cash them out- to me that seems like being paid twice- the money you earned and the money you might have earned if you had been too sick to work (but you did work!)- would someone please explain the logic of that? To me, it seems like "double-dipping", pure and simple.

Also, the merits of the DROP program- an article in The Warren Tribune, 1-6-11, didn't think it was such a good idea for taxpayers and they recommended "dropping" it. Now who's right? I don't know; I called it a scam- but I could be wrong. The Vindy, I believe, especially since Bert brought in the program in his column, should have some kind of an article- with authoritative documentation- to enlighten us. If the Warren-trib can do it, then why not the Vindy?

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21kurtw(1829 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

Also, I've read a lot of people on this thread talk about "corporate greed" and huge retirement packages offered to corporate managers- aren't we comparing "apples and oranges" here.

Those kinds of gravy-train deals go to CEO'S and top managers in companies- not average workers. I mean, if you want to keep the comparison accurate, you would need to compare the retirement package of someone like Jim Hughes- mid-level public employee- to a comparable mid-level manager in the private sector. Right.

So, by that standard public employees are doing extremely well. Are they getting more than they deserve? I honestly don't know. I do know that if I- as a taxpayer and consumer- had a choice between over-compensating a Police or Fire Chief and a district manager for a hamburger chain that decided mayonnaise portion control, I would pick the former,

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22kurtw(1829 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

For: "theotherside"
I would really like to agree with you- "the private sector should be emulating the public sector in terms of pay and benefits". Question is: How do you do that?

Public employees operate as a monopoly. The citizens of Youngstown- if they got fed up with their Public Employees (they're too expensive to maintain- the tax burden is too high, etc.etc. ) can't just say, well: "Here's another City Government, let's give them a shot-- they don't charge as much and they do a better job". Taxpayers can't do that- they're stuck with the government they have- because it's a monopoly. Their only recourse, in the final analysis is to leave- "vote with their feet"- and that's what happened to Detroit and may soon happen to places like y-town

In the Private Sphere, ordinary consumers- unlike tax payers- do have choices- that's what drove GM into bankruptcy- people were exercising their right of choice- choosing cars manufactured in "right to work" states which they preferred to the Detroit product.

It's the difference between a monopoly- the Public Sphere- and the Free Market. Believe me, I would love it, if private jobs had the kinds of pay and benefits you find in the Public Sphere- I would also like it, if money grew on trees, or there was a "fountain of youth" that would make old people young again.

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23Groovethang(36 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

My understanding is that the DROP program benefits are not as lucrative now as in the Jimmy "500 K" Hughes era. Also, just wondering if kurtw is claiming income earned on his tax returns in his part-time handyman work cleaning drains. My bet is no.

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