By David Skolnick
Mayoral candidate Jamael Tito Brown criticized John A. McNally, the incumbent, for not revealing details about the criminal investigation into the water department employees, saying it’s because of the officeholder’s own criminal past.
McNally says he expects the criticism from his Democratic primary opponent, but it’s without merit.
On Friday, the city disciplined 25 water employees found guilty Feb. 27 of falsifying their credentials by reducing the salaries of 24 of them.
“It is evident that Mayor McNally, wishing to avoid the comparison to his own criminal conduct, hid information to avoid the political fallout,” Brown said. “Terminating or severely punishing those involved in the theft of city tax dollars would have highlighted that criminal conduct, even misdemeanors, is unacceptable in Youngstown government. Mayor McNally chose not to act decisively because to do so would have been politically cataclysmic.”
Brown, a former city council president, was referring to McNally’s pleading guilty in February 2016 to four misdemeanors: two counts of falsification, and one count each of unlawful use of a telecommunications device and attempted disclosure of confidential information. McNally was given one year’s probation in March 2016 and allowed to remain in office.
McNally was accused of being part of a criminal enterprise that conspired illegally to stop or impede the relocation of the county’s Job and Family Services Department from a building owned by a subsidiary of the Cafaro Co. to Oakhill Renaissance Place, a former hospital. McNally was a county commissioner when the county, over his objections, purchased Oakhill in 2007.
“Instead, the mayor chose to disregard the fact that these employees abused their position as public servants, violating the trust of the community, because to expose the corruption would have ultimately jeopardized his re-election plans,” Brown said.
McNally said it was “a good try” by Brown to attempt to score political points before the May 2 primary.
“Part of being mayor is getting criticized for making decisions,” he said. “But I discussed [discipline] with three lawyers in our office and our labor-relations firm. I’m comfortable with the discipline handed down.”
McNally said he’s known about the state investigation into the employees for about 18 months.
“We decided from the get-go we wouldn’t take action against the employees until it was time to take action,” he said.
It was less than two weeks after the water workers were convicted of falsifying contact hours for claiming they completed coursework to receive Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Class 2 water certifications when they took only part of the training classes that the city punished the workers.
To do so before would have interfered with the investigation, McNally said.
Of the 25 workers convicted, 24 of them had their annual salaries reduced. Twenty saw a two-step job classification drop, an annual pay cut of $4,243 to $4,472, and four others saw a one-step drop, losing about $1,900 in salary a year. The other employee didn’t receive additional pay, so his salary wasn’t reduced.
Brown said Monday: “It appears that each employee involved should have been suspended pending the investigation,” and “some should have been terminated based on culpability.”
He also called for the Ohio auditor to determine how much money the employees “wrongfully gained over the years.”
With some receiving that extra pay going back 3 1/2 years, The Vindicator estimates the total amount of fraudulent additional pay to be between $150,000 and $175,000. But the deals the 26 worked out required them to make a total of $52,000 in restitution – $2,000 each – to the city.
The agreements the employees made with the AG’s office specifically requires them to “cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of Anthony Vigorito,” who taught the certification course on behalf of the EPA and works as the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District’s plant operations manager.
Appointed by McNally three years ago, Brown serves on the MVSD board of directors.
McNally said Brown hasn’t disciplined Vigorito, though it’s an almost certainty the MVSD employee is being investigated.