By David Skolnick
Even though city council has hired the Federal Plaza/downtown director for decades, it appears it may not have the authority to do so.
“I’m researching the history of both the creation of the position and the past hiring practices,” said Law Director Martin Hume. “There are charter provisions and ordinances that are inconsistent” with council’s right to hire someone for that position.
The issue comes as city council approved legislation Wednesday to pay $50,000 to Youngstown’s insurance company to resolve a complaint filed by Lyndsey Hughes, who was sexually harassed on the job.
Hughes is getting $72,000 and her attorneys are receiving $48,000 as part of a settlement agreement that also includes her not keeping her job as downtown director of events, special projects and marketing.
A Dec. 6, 2013, report conducted on behalf of the city concluded that DeMaine Kitchen, a former chief of staff/secretary to former Mayor Charles Sammarone and also a former city councilman, sexually harassed Hughes.
Hughes, hired in 2008, was making $41,125 a year in salary. Her last day as downtown director was May 21, according to the agreement obtained by The Vindicator before council’s vote Wednesday.
Council recently met twice in executive session to discuss replacing Hughes without coming to an agreement.
Also, Mayor John A. McNally said the position would work better under his authority than council’s because it’s difficult for a person to answer to seven bosses instead of one.
McNally also said the position could be filled by a part-timer.
Hume hasn’t given a legal opinion on who can hire Hughes’ replacement.
But in response to questions from The Vindicator on Thursday, Hume said there’s a 1975 city council ordinance that calls for the creation of a Federal Plaza commission, including some department heads as well as appointments from city council and the mayor, to decide who is selected for the position.
“It’s still on the books,” he said. “I don’t know if it was ever used.”
Also, Hume pointed to the city charter, specifically Section 8, approved by voters Nov. 2, 2004. That provision gives council the authority only to hire a city clerk and other assistant clerks of council as necessary.
“Council shall exercise no power of appointment except as herein expressly provided,” it reads.
In 1988, council and then-Mayor Patrick Ungaro had a public dispute when the legislative body hired Claire Maluso as Federal Plaza director — a position that morphed into downtown director. Ungaro eventually dropped the objection and council continued to hire people for that job.
Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, whose ward includes downtown, said the city needs someone now to handle the job’s responsibilities, even if it’s only on an interim basis.
But her two attempts Wednesday and two weeks ago to get council to hire Terrill Vidale, a local event promoter, temporarily for the job has been rejected by a majority of council.
“As 1st Ward councilwoman, almost all calls for problems with downtown come to me,” Gillam said. “The other council members are not getting calls about downtown issues and events. They don’t have a clue as to what’s going on. Ninety-eight percent of the complaints come to me. I have a better perspective.”
Gillam said she was surprised when council members asked Hume in Wednesday’s closed-door meeting about who has control over hiring a downtown director.
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, said there is a “perception among some council members” that the downtown director deals primarily with the 1st Ward council member and that member has greater influence than others, and that shouldn’t be the case.
Also, Ray said council doesn’t have the authority to hire Hughes’ replacement.
“Once the law director tells you you’re doing something that doesn’t comply with an ordinance or the charter, you’re obligated to correct that practice no matter how long it’s been done,” he said. “Past practice is not an excuse for not following the law.”
Meanwhile, the city board of control approved a settlement agreement Thursday with another former employee.
Cicero Davis originally was fired by the city April 15 as the director of environmental health because he surrendered his state registration as a sanitarian March 26 as part of an agreement with the Ohio Sanitary Registration Board.
Without that license, Davis could no longer serve in that position, Hume said.
But Davis, who made about $56,300 annually, appealed the firing to the city’s Civil Service Commission.
The deal allows Davis to resign, effective May 5, which also gives him three weeks more of back pay, about $3,250.
The settlement includes language prohibiting Davis from filing any appeals to get his job back, Hume said.
Davis surrendered his license after admitting incompetence, unprofessional conduct and dereliction of duty. An internal city investigation in April 2013 determined that Davis falsified records and possessed sexually explicit material on his work computer.
The board of control approved a $24,063 severance package May 8 for Davis for unused sick and vacation time.