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Mayor should handle hiring of downtown events director

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If there’s any doubt about too many cooks spoiling the broth, one need only look at the controversy surrounding the redrawing of Youngstown City Council’s ward boundaries to know that seven lawmakers are one too many when it comes to dealing with important issues. Members of council can’t agree on what the new wards should look like because there will be winners and losers — and those on the losing end aren’t going down without a fight.

It doesn’t matter to a majority of the seven council members that the state and U.S. constitutions clearly require an equal division of the population as established by the national census conducted in 2010. They insist on preserving the status quo, which is not possible because of the huge population loss in Youngstown since the 2000 census.

We detailed the underlying issues in an editorial Sunday, but we think it’s important to again point out the dysfunction in council — to make the argument that Mayor John A. McNally, and not city council, should appoint the Federal Plaza/downtown director. It’s not only that having seven bosses (eight, if you count the president of council) is impractical and unwieldy, but there’s the question of authority.

Although lawmakers have appointed the director for downtown events for decades, Law Director Martin Hume has raised the issue of inconsistency between the Youngstown Home Rule Charter and council’s ordinances.

“I’m researching the history of both the creation of the position and past hirings,” Hume said.

As he does his research, the law director will find that the position was never clearly defined with specific qualifications and experience. It was more often than not an appointment made on the basis of politics.

In addition, having part-time lawmakers managing a full-time city employee who has nothing to do with the legislative body’s work is a disaster waiting to happen.

And disaster has struck — to the tune of $50,000. That’s the amount city government has paid its insurance company to take care of a sexual harassment complaint filed by Lindsay Hughes, who was downtown director of events, special projects and marketing.

Hughes charged that DeMaine Kitchen had sexually harassed her when he was the chief of staff/secretary to Mayor Charles Sammarone, and before that the 2nd Ward councilman.

A 2013 independent investigation conducted on behalf of the city concluded that Kitchen had harassed Hughes.

Return to old job

Sammarone, who became mayor in 2011 after Jay Williams left the chief-executive position to join President Barack Obama’s administration, chose not to seek a full four-year term. Instead, Sammarone ran for council president, a position he held at the time of his becoming mayor.

Kitchen, on the other hand, ran as an independent for mayor against McNally, who was the Democratic nominee.

The Vindicator did not make an endorsement in last year’s general election for mayor because of McNally’s alleged involvement in the so-called Oakhill Renaissance Place conspiracy when he was Mahoning County commissioner and Kitchen’s nonpayment of taxes and sexual harrassment allegations.

That said, we find a strong case to be made for the mayor having the responsibility to hire — and fire — the director of downtown events.

Given the work that’s involved in the position, it makes sense to have the individual in the executive branch instead of the legislative branch of city government.

There are strict rules and regulations that govern the behavior of both employer and employee in city government, which protects the city from the kind of lawsuit filed by Hughes, who agreed to give up her job as part of the settlement.

City Hall can ill afford to get in another such bind.