It should come as no surprise to anyone that Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally is turning a blind eye to the fact that his finance director, David Bozanich, is the target of a public corruption investigation by the state.
After all, McNally has a criminal record stemming from his public corruption conviction.
McNally pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges for his role in a criminal enterprise when he was a Mahoning County commissioner. The enterprise was masterminded by prominent Mahoning Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.
Cafaro, retired president of the Cafaro Co., did not want the county to buy Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical Center. McNally joined forces with the businessman and worked to undermine his two colleagues on the board of commissioners, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt.
In the end, however, the good guys prevailed. The county bought Oakhill Renaissance, and Traficanti and Ludt kept their public pledge to relocate the Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side.
A subsequent federal and state investigation into the criminal conspiracy resulted in charges being filed against McNally, former county Auditor Michael Sciortino and Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik.
The two former county officeholders pleaded guilty, while a jury convicted Yavorcik.
As for Cafaro, he walked away unscathed because Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is running for governor in 2018, chose to give him a pass.
Now, there’s a government corruption investigation in the city of Youngstown, this one led by Ohio Auditor David Yost. Once again McNally is in it knee-deep.
No, the mayor isn’t a target, but his right-hand man, Bozanich, is on the state’s radar and will soon be indicted on criminal charges.
Indeed, last week’s 105-count indictment of developer Dominic Marchionda, hailed by many as the savior of downtown Youngstown, implicates Bozanich, who helped put together government financing for several of the projects.
The indictment claims that an unnamed city official received a $25,000 bribe from Marchionda in return for his assistance. The 73-page document laying out the allegations against the developer leaves little doubt that the city official is Bozanich.
The finance director insists he has done nothing wrong and that “time will tell.”
But that’s the problem – from a public perception standpoint. So long as Bozanich remains finance director, there will be a cloud of suspicion hanging over city government.
He is an at-will employee, but the mayor has not demonstrated the will to do the right thing.
Thus, it’s up to members of Youngstown City Council to take a stand against the keeper of the public purse remaining on the public payroll while he is dragged through the courts after he’s indicted.
It’s a matter of credibility.
A vote of no-confidence is well within the purview of the legislative branch seeing as how the finance director is the only cabinet member who must be confirmed by council.
The Youngstown Home Rule Charter states: “The Director of Finance shall be the head of the Department of Finance. He shall be appointed by the Mayor, by and with the approval of Council, and may be removed in the same manner.”
The members of council are: Charles Sammarone, president; Julius Oliver, 1st Ward; T.J. Rodgers, 2nd Ward; Nathaniel Pinkard, 3rd Ward; Mike Ray, 4th Ward; Lauren McNally, 5th Ward; Anita Davis, 6th; Basia Adamczak, 7th Ward.
It may be a leap of faith to believe that lawmakers will pass a resolution urging the mayor to fire Bozanich or, at the very least, place him on unpaid leave.
After all, they buried their heads in the sand when it came to McNally after he pleaded guilty to the four misdemeanor charges in the Oakhill Renaissance case.
Not only did the mayor ignore The Vindicator’s editorial call for him to resign, he thumbed his nose at the residents of the city by seeking re-election this year.
Fortunately, Democratic voters in the May primary rejected him. Former Councilman Jamael Tito Brown won the nomination and will face three challengers in the November general election.
The mayor, who will be leaving office at the end of the year and has virtually no prospects of being elected to another public office, has nothing to lose by giving his finance director a pass.
Not so members of council, who must answer to their constituents, and must know that having Bozanich as one of the most powerful city officials is unacceptable.
In July, when the state investigation of the downtown development projects was made public, this writer described Bozanich as the “power behind the throne in City Hall.”
Investigators from the state auditor’s and attorney general’s offices, assisted by Mahoning County deputy sheriffs, searched the finance director’s Boardman home and seized items from it as well as from the residence of his girlfriend, Panzy Eldridge. Items were also taken from the home and offices of Atty. Stephen Garea.
In March, state investigators seized records at Marchionda’s NYO Property Group offices in downtown Youngstown and at his home in Poland.
The developer is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Youngstown’s lawmakers have a chance to strike a blow for honest government. They shouldn’t squander it.