By Joe Gorman
Members of city council, when asked about the indictment of Mayor John A. McNally by a grand jury in Cuyahoga County Wednesday, were all in agreement on two things:
The indictment is sad for the city and its residents.
And the mayor is innocent until proven guilty.
McNally, a Democrat, said he did not want to comment Wednesday and that he expects to address questions today.
Earlier Wednesday, he’d said he was not aware of the indictment, and was not told anything before a news conference took place in Cleveland to announce it.
Law Director Martin Hume, appointed by McNally, said that the city charter provides for the president of council to take over for the mayor if he should have to leave in the middle of his term for any reason.
That person is Charles Sammarone, who was president of council when former Mayor Jay Williams left in August 2011 to take a job with the Obama administration. Sammarone took over as mayor until this year, choosing to run for election as council president instead of re-election as mayor. If he became mayor, Sammarone would fill the rest of McNally’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2017.
Sammarone is facing his own probe over a $4,000 cash campaign contribution he made to McNally’s opponent, DeMaine Kitchen, in last year’s election, and is expected to have a hearing June 26 before the Ohio Elections Commission.
Hume said he was not sure what would happen if Sammarone, a Democrat, took over for McNally and then was forced to leave for any reason.
However, the city charter calls for the president pro tem — currently Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th — to fill out the council president’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2017.
McNally was indicted on public corruption charges along with Mahoning County Auditor Mike Sciortino and Atty. Martin Yavorcik. The state’s case centers on activities surrounding the county’s purchase of the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, which is now Oakhill Renaissance Place. McNally is facing charges from his time as a Mahoning County commissioner and the charges were dismissed before by a visiting judge because of the refusal of the FBI to make available some tapes they possessed to defense attorneys.
McNally has maintained his innocence, and has said he has no plans to step down.
Councilman John Swierz, D-7th, said he was saddened by the news.
“I’m certainly saddened this situation came up the way it did,” Swierz said.
Swierz also added that McNally deserves his day in court, and he thinks council and the mayor can still work together, but he admitted it would probably not be easy for the mayor.
Tarpley also said the day was not a good one for the city.
“It’s a sad day in the city of Youngstown,” Tarpley said. “We don’t need any more negatives. The people have been through so much.”
Tarpley also said the mayor is innocent until proven guilty and that the legal process has to play itself out.
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, said that council will try and make the best of the situation.
“This is not good news for the city, or the Valley for that matter,” Ray said. “We’ll just have to work through this.”
Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, said that she was surprised by the indictments and she was reading through it Wednesday afternoon trying to learn more.
Gillam said the mayor has legal rights and she added she remembers he said during his campaign that he would not step down if indicted.
“We’ll just have to work through this and do what we have to do,” Gillam said.