Youngstown weighing if park/rec director can be dismissed

Law department to determine if director keeps job

By David Skolnick


City voters approved a charter amendment to eliminate the park and recreation commission, but the city got rid of the members too early and the law department is determining if the mayor-elect has the authority to get rid of the current park and recreation director.

The civil service commission is asking the city’s law department if Robert Burke, park and recreation director, retains his job as a civil-service hire.

“We’ll likely have a legal opinion in a week,” said Law Director Anthony Farris.

The charter amendment gives the mayor the power to hire and fire the person holding that job effective Jan. 1, but doesn’t address if that protects Burke. Any new hires for that job would need confirmation by city council.

Voters approved the ballot issue on the Nov. 5 election ballot to eliminate the park and recreation commission, created in 1935, and give the mayor the power to hire and fire the department’s director by a vote of 64.2 percent to 35.8 percent, according to unofficial results. The Mahoning County Board of Elections will certify the results today.

The park commission hired Burke for the job in March 2012 after he went through the civil-service process.

The law department will determine if Burke is protected or if Mayor-elect John McNally IV can hire his own park and recreation director should he want to replace Burke.

While the decision is likely to be answered by the law department next week, the civil service commission probably won’t take action until its next regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 18.

McNally gave those interested in serving in his Cabinet, including park and recreation director, until Dec. 1 to submit resumes and letters of interest.

Park and recreation director is on that list, based on premature information McNally received from the civil service commission, with the mayor-elect saying he would remove it from the list if he isn’t permitted to hire someone for that post.

McNally wants to have his Cabinet in place by mid-December even though he doesn’t become mayor until Jan. 1.

Also, the elimination of the park commission isn’t supposed to take effect until Jan. 1, according to language in the ordinance approved Aug. 21 by city council to get the charter amendment proposal on the ballot.

But the city law department jumped the gun, sending letters last week to the five commission members stating their service to the city is no longer needed.

The letters were sent by Burke, who said he did so based on the advice of the law department.

Robert Rohrbaugh, an assistant law director, “was supposed to check the ordinance first” before mailing the letters to determine the effective date, Farris said.

“Apparently, he did not do so, but I think in the grand scheme it matters not,” said Farris, who added he didn’t know the letters were mailed until informed about it by The Vindicator.

Anthony Spano, the park commission’s chairman, said if he knew the correct end date, the group “would have continued doing what we’ve been doing. We would have continued to conduct our business and continued to meet. We would have continued to work on the department budget and done what we could to improve the quality of life of residents.”

There’s been long-standing tension between the commission members, who aren’t paid for their services, and city council and the administration.

City voters in November 2007 approved charter amendments that stripped the power of the commission to hire park employees except the director, and required all commission contracts and purchases to be approved by city council and the board of control.

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