By David Skolnick
With a couple of pictures, a nameplate and an Irish storyteller figurine on mostly bare walls, desks and shelves with a few unpacked boxes in the corner, Mayor John A. McNally was dealing with an important issue during his first day at his city hall office.
The situation wasn’t a vacant house in need of being demolished or a financial concern.
It was large fluffy snowflakes that wouldn’t stop falling from the sky as he looked out his first-floor office Thursday.
It was snowing — a lot — and McNally was making sure the street department’s trucks were plowing and dropping sand and salt on city roads.
“I’m paying attention to the snow, which when it comes down like this is one of the things the people want their mayor to be successful at addressing,” he said. “We’re working to get the snow off the streets.”
While McNally officially became mayor Wednesday, city hall was closed for New Year’s Day. Thursday was his first as mayor at city hall.
Except for a framed President Barack Obama inaugural photo from January 2009 that was on the wall when Jay Williams, who now works for the president, was mayor, and a copy of Winslow Homer’s “Snap the Whip” — the original hangs at Youngstown’s Butler Institute of American Art — the walls are bare for now.
Unlike his predecessor Charles Sammarone, who returned to his old job of city council president Wednesday, McNally uses technology.
Sammarone never turned on the Dell computer in the mayor’s office when he ran the city from August 2011 to Tuesday, much less sent an email. He has nothing nice to say about even basic technology such as cellphones, using an older-model flip phone, and proudly said that he’s never sent a text message.
When you walk into the office now, McNally not only has the computer on, but has two monitors.
It’s hardly high-tech, but at least it’s tech.
McNally has an email address — firstname.lastname@example.org — and had the city’s IT staff put a link to his Twitter handle — twitter.com/mayormcnally — on the city’s website. He had barely 100 followers as of late Thursday, and admits he wants a lot more.
McNally has an iPhone 5, and like Sammarone’s flip phone, it’s his own and not issued by the city.
There was one minor challenge when McNally got to the mayor’s office Thursday.
“It took a couple of seconds to figure out how to work the [landline] phone,” he said. “I didn’t realize you had to dial 9 first, but then I figured it out.”
Besides monitoring the snowfall and how the street department was handling it, McNally spent Thursday talking with various department heads to get caught up on what’s been happening during the past couple of weeks.
McNally still has a couple of cabinet appointments to make: deputy director of public works and city prosecutor.
McNally also needs to decide who is staying and going at the law department. McNally, a former city law director, said he doesn’t want to keep part-time attorneys on staff, so Robert Rohrbaugh, a part-time assistant law director, will be around for only another month or two.
No one has left the employment of the city yet except Anthony Farris, who was replaced by Martin Hume as law director, who has said it was probably unlikely he’d stay in the department if he didn’t run it. McNally said he’d like Farris to remain.
Robin Lees is the new police chief, replacing Rod Foley, who held that job for all but the first few weeks of Sammarone’s tenure as mayor. Foley was bumped down to his previous job of police captain.
Why Lees over Foley?
“In the end, [Lees’] command style and leadership qualities were important to me,” McNally said. “Rod’s background is stellar, but it’s a choice the mayor makes. It’s not unhappiness with the old chief. It’s that I’m comfortable with my choice. Every [other mayor] made changes” at police chief.
Later this month, McNally said he’ll select a city prosecutor, with the help of Hume, and name a deputy director of public works.
“A couple of applicants have backgrounds in professional engineering,” he said of the public-works applicants.
McNally, the city’s 50th mayor, wants to look at probably adding more staff to the public-works department, including the possibility of another manager.
If Charles Shasho, who’s held the job since 2008, no longer runs the department, he would be moved to his previous civil-service-protected job of assistant commissioner of engineering.
McNally, who spent eight years as a Mahoning County commissioner, said being mayor is similar to the last few years he served with the county as chairman of the board of commissioners and de facto county administrator.
“I’m very excited about being mayor,” he said. “This is the type of work I like to do.”