Y’town council is not ‘prudent’

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, October 15, 2017

There was so much ducking in Youngstown City Council last week that lawmakers resembled a gathering of political quacks (as in fakers).

The councilmen and -women had a chance to strike a blow for good government by publicly repudiating Finance Director David Bozanich. Instead, they chose to hide behind the “innocent until proven guilty” excuse for not taking any action.

Indeed, Ohio Auditor David Yost had handed the lawmakers political cover for going after one of the most powerful individuals in city government, but they were too afraid to pull the trigger.

Yost issued a brief, but unequivocal, statement after his office was asked by 21 WFMJ-TV, The Vindicator’s broadcast partner, to comment about it, retweeting this writer’s column of last Sunday. The column urged council to pass a resolution of no-confidence against the veteran finance director.

Here’s what Yost’s statement said:

“Mr. Bozanich has not been charged, but a prudent City Council would be asking questions about his conduct of City business, and would err on the side of protecting taxpayers.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the auditor, a former journalist and a candidate for Ohio attorney general in 2018, was suggesting.

These are the facts pertaining to Bozanich that members of council chose to ignore:

The finance director, whose word is law when it comes to control of city government’s treasury, is the target of a public corruption investigation by the state.

His indictment (either state or federal) on criminal charges relating to his involvement in development projects downtown is imminent.

He is featured prominently in the 105-count indictment of developer Dominic Marchionda, hailed by many to be the savior of downtown Youngstown. The developer has pleaded not guilty.

In the Marchionda indictment, an unnamed city official is accused of receiving a $25,000 bribe from Marchionda in return for his assistance.

A line in the indictment states $25,000 is needed to “take care of Dave” to ensure a project obtains city approval.

A source with knowledge of the lengthy state investigation into Marchionda has told Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick that the city official mentioned in the indictment is Bozanich.

Members of a special investigative unit created by Auditor Yost to crack down on the misuse of public dollars have done yeoman’s work in blowing the lid off the Marchionda-city government connection.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case.

Therefore, when this writer last week urged city council to show courage and stand up to Bozanich, who has been the power behind the throne for a long time, the expectation was that the lawmakers would do the right thing.

But as The Vindicator’s Skolnick reported, city council members say it’s premature to discuss disciplinary action against the finance director.

In fact, most council members declined to discuss what should be done if Bozanich is indicted.

To be sure, an indictment is not an indication of guilt, but it does cast a shadow when the target is a prominent government official.

The seemingly ho-hum attitude of council members may be influenced by the fact that Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally not only stayed in office after he was indicted in the highly publicized Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal-conspiracy case, he shamelessly has continued as the city’s chief executive despite being convicted of four misdemeanor charges.

McNally’s presence in City Hall has established a new standard of behavior in government. It can be described in two words: Crime pays.

Fortunately, there’s a state auditor who understands that public trust in government is eroded each time corruption, especially at the highest levels, is exposed.

The Mahoning Valley’s love affair with corrupt public officials has become the stuff of political legends. Year after year, indictments are handed down and convictions secured, and yet those in government are not dissuaded.

But it isn’t just public officials who bear responsibility for the Mahoning Valley’s black eye. Bribery does not take place in a vacuum. There are prominent members of the community who view government as their plaything. Bribery is considered the cost of doing business.

The Vindicator, through its editorials, and this writer, through his columns, have urged prosecutors to not only crack down on corrupt public officials, but to go after the rich and famous whose conduct shows such disregard for the law.

In the Oakhill Renaissance case, Attorney General Mike DeWine chose not to pursue prominent Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., even though federal and state investigators identified him as the mastermind of the criminal conspiracy.

DeWine, who is running for governor in 2018, is now overseeing the prosecution of the case involving Marchionda and his affiliated businesses.

Why shouldn’t honest residents conclude that the attorney general will stay true to form and give another powerful individual a pass?

The answer lies in the involvement of state Auditor Yost. He is acutely aware that DeWine’s kiss on the cheek for Cafaro has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Valley residents sick and tired of this region’s sordid reputation.

Yost is committed to doing whatever he must to ensure that everyone involved in the Marchionda matter is held to account.

That is why he issued the statement involving Bozanich. He was delivering a message to city lawmakers that should have prompted them to at least pass a resolution calling on Mayor McNally to suspend the finance director with pay just to get him out of City Hall.

Members of council should have erred on the side of protecting taxpayers. Instead, they chose to err on the side of political caution.

Profiles in Courage? Hardly. More Like Profiles in Cowardice.