Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally must still be swooning from the big, wet, juicy judicial kiss he received last year at his sentencing on government corruption charges. How else to explain his love tap for the more than 20 Water Department scofflaws who falsified their credentials in order to boost their wages?
McNally’s $3,500 fine, one-year probation and 20 hours of community service were a travesty of justice, given his prominent role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy.
But his decision to reduce the salaries of 24 of the 25 Water Department employees and to administer fake suspensions (they’re on paper only) is even worse. The punishment – if it can be called that – is proof that when it comes to public-sector corruption, the mayor’s moral compass is on the fritz.
Indeed, his criminal record made it impossible for him to do the right thing. At the very least, he should have actually suspended the employees without pay. But had he done so, he would have been accused of hypocrisy.
McNally would have been hard-pressed to justify such severe punishment after he walked out of the courtroom largely unscathed and laughing all the way to his lucrative (six-figure salary) public job.
Not only was McNally, convicted of four misdemeanor charges, permitted to remain the leader of the largest community in the Mahoning Valley, he got the green light to seek re-election.
He’s running for a second four-year term this year and will face one challenger in the May Democratic primary: Jamael Tito Brown, a former member of Youngstown City Council.
Mayor McNally’s charges stemmed from his participation in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy when he was a Mahoning County commissioner. The conspiracy was the brainchild of Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., who sought to block the county from buying Oakhill Renaissance, the former South Side Medical Center.
McNally’s two colleagues, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, were in favor of the purchase and let it be known that they intended to move the county’s Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza to Oakhill.
Cafaro didn’t want the relocation to occur and recruited several county government officials, including McNally, to derail the purchase. The cabal failed in its anti-government conspiracy, and Traficanti and Ludt moved the JFS to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place.
McNally pleaded guilty in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to the four criminal charges.
Against that backdrop, he could not have thrown the book at the Water Department employees.
But by showing leniency for their egregious behavior, he has opened himself up to criticism that his personal record has colored his opinion of government corruption.
In an interview Friday with The Vindicator after the discipline of the workers was announced, the mayor seemed to downplay what occurred.
“They made a serious mistake in judgment. But they’ve been very good employees with extensive years of service to the city,” he said.
As McNally noted, the workers who participated in the falsification scheme were veteran employees. In other words, they should have known better than to game the system.
They knew that having a Class 2 license would mean more money in their pockets through higher wages. The fact that they took a shortcut in the course requirement for certification shows a disturbing disregard for their responsibilities as public servants.
The workers pleaded guilty in Franklin County Municipal Court to an unclassified misdemeanor count of falsifying contact hours of required coursework for the state certification. They were ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines and restitution.
However, the crime carried potential prison terms of four years and fines up to $10,000. In other words, they agreed to plead guilty because there was too much of a risk in going to trial.
The Water Department employees also appeared to have guessed correctly that they would get a love-tap from the McNally administration.
After all, when the mayor received his big, wet, juicy judicial kiss last year in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court – the deal was worked out with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office – potential scofflaws knew they had an ally in City Hall.
And when McNally made it known that termination of the Water Department employees was off the table, the message to those inclined to break the law was clear: We’re soulmates.
If the criticism of the mayor and the Water Department workers comes across as overly harsh, consider the following comment from McNally as he sought to put the whole sordid affair in perspective:
“It’s a lesson for other city employees that if you have classes you have to go to, you have to go to the classes.”
Really? That’s the bottom line?
How about this message for all those fortunate enough to be on the public payroll: Hold on to your jobs for dear life and walk the straight and narrow because you’ll never make it in the private sector.