If Youngstown’s mayor-elect, Jamael Tito Brown, wants to know what the headline will look like if he doesn’t fire city Finance Director David Bozanich on his first day in office, he should grab a copy of the Dec. 9 edition of The Vindicator.
There were reports last week that some members of Youngstown City Council are urging Brown to keep Bozanich on the payroll until the national search for a finance director is completed.
This writer learned the issue was raised during the recent meeting of the mayor-elect’s transition team.
Even a casual conversation about Bozanich possibly staying on temporarily is disturbing, to say the least.
That’s why Brown needs to be reminded of this headline that appeared earlier this month on the front page of The Vindicator:
“Felon served briefly on mayor-elect’s transition team.” The subhead read: “Pastor resigns post after revelation he was convicted of stealing $486K in ’08.”
The story was about the Rev. William C. King Jr., pastor of Price Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, who was convicted of felony theft in 2008 when he was living in Pittsburgh.
Democrat Brown, who won the Nov. 7 general election for mayor by a whisker over independent challenger Sean McKinney, said he was not aware of the Rev. Mr. King’s criminal record when he named him to his transition team.
“I didn’t realize I had to do a background check on him,” the mayor-elect said. “I asked him if he’d be interested in being on the transition team, and he said he would. Once it was announced he said, ‘I have this issue,’ and he stepped down.”
There’s nothing to suggest that Brown, who defeated Mayor John A. McNally in the May Democratic primary, knew that King was convicted of stealing $468,725 from the estate of Bishop Charles H. Foggie, a former head of AME Zion Church.
Mr. King, a pastor and a lawyer, was sentenced to 11 Ω to 23 months in the Allegheny County Jail and five years of probation. He was also ordered to pay restitution.
Since the pastor resigned before the transition team had its first official meeting, there was no harm done to Brown’s commitment to start with a clean slate.
But the new mayor will be inviting harsh criticism if he fails to keep a key campaign promise, namely, to fire embattled Finance Director Bozanich.
Brown can expect this headline if he doesn’t get rid of him immediately:
“Mayor retains Bozanich despite allegations of finance director’s bribe- taking.”
There has been talk the finance director is going to be leaving at the end of the year, but he has not yet submitted his letter of resignation.
A dark cloud of corruption has hung over City Hall since outgoing Mayor McNally was convicted in March of four misdemeanor charges stemming from his role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy when he was a Mahoning County commissioner.
The cloud became darker a couple of months ago when prominent developer Dominic Marchionda was charged with more than 100 criminal counts relating to his use of public dollars on several downtown development projects.
In the criminal indictment handed down by a Mahoning County grand jury, prosecutors allege that Marchionda paid Finance Director Bozanich a $25,000 bribe to gain city approval for one of the projects.
Bozanich has denied the allegation, and Marchionda has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
However, state Auditor David Yost, whose office is investigating the city’s use of public dollars for downtown development, has said that Bozanich will be indicted shortly.
The case is being prosecuted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, but Yost is calling the shots.
All this sordid history during the tenure of soon-to-be former Mayor McNally has raised the public’s expectation regarding the new administration under Brown.
Indeed, during the primary campaign, the former member of city council and Youngstown Board of Education was adamant that McNally should have resigned after he pleaded guilty in the Oakhill case.
McNally not only refused to vacate the mayor’s office, but governed with a sense of entitlement.
Fortunately, the voters of the city made it clear he had overstayed his welcome.
Brown has no choice but to sweep away the debris from his predecessor’s tenure, starting with Bozanich.
Indeed, while the mayor-elect has said he wants to fill key positions immediately upon taking office, he is doing the right thing by taking his time with the all-important position of finance director.
Brown should meet with Ohio Auditor Yost to be briefed on the ongoing investigation and to seek his advice going forward.
Yost, a former county prosecutor and journalist, is well aware of the Mahoning Valley’s reputation as a cauldron of public corruption.
But he also knows there are elected officials committed to putting the region on a path to honest governance.
Brown will have a strong ally in Columbus if he takes the state auditor into his confidence.
Indeed, he should ask Yost if it’s possible to retain the services of one of the members of his staff familiar with Youngstown’s finances.
Yost could agree to lend the staffer to the new administration on a temporary basis until such time as the national search for a full-time finance director is completed.
Brown is to be commended for not turning to the usual suspects to fill the all-important job of chief financial officer.
Having a member of the state auditor’s staff in City Hall reviewing the operation of the Finance Department and going over the books with a fine-tooth comb would immediately reassure skeptical taxpayers that a new day has dawned in city government.