New mayor of Niles faces long list of challenges


The new mayor of Niles has 16 months to prove that “the younger generation” is

capable of leading the city out of the political Dark Ages.

The words in quotations came from Steve Mientkiewicz after he was chosen Aug. 1 to serve as mayor by Niles’ Democratic precinct committeemen and women.

Mientkiewicz, 34, has served as 2nd Ward councilman since 2015. His term as mayor will expire Dec. 31, 2019.

Of the 11 Democratic Party officials who cast ballots to fill the vacancy created by Mayor Thomas Scarnecchia’s sudden retirement, Mientkiewicz

received six votes, while city Police Capt. Jim Villeco got five votes.

In comments after he was declared the winner, the new mayor contended that he is the right person for the job

because he’s part of “the younger generation” with experience, education and a “common-sense” approach to things.

A total of 10 candidates applied to serve out Scarnecchia’s term in office. The former member of council retired unexpectedly June 18 after just 21⁄2 years on the job.

Scarnecchia had replaced longtime Mayor Ralph Infante, the ultimate Democratic Party insider, who is serving

a 10-year sentence in state prison

after being convicted of 22 state

criminal charges stemming from his 24 years in office.

Council President Barry Steffey Jr. has served as acting mayor since Scarnecchia’s departure. Steffey was one of the 10 who applied for the job.

Mientkiewicz, a teacher at the Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University, won’t need a learning curve because he has served in the legislative branch of government.

But what he does require is a spine of steel as he works to dismantle the deeply rooted public corruption and influence-peddling that has been part of Niles government for decades

The Infante criminal trial yanked the scab off the huge wound that he caused by running the city like his personal fiefdom.

He used his public position for personal gain and in the process made it known to morally suspect individuals in the Mahoning Valley that City Hall’s doors were open to the highest bidder.

Infante’s greed finally caught up with him when Ohio Auditor David Yost’s office began to look into the city’s financial transactions.

Chris Rudy, one of the investigators with the auditor’s office, recalls receiving this insight from law-enforcement officials when he began delving into Infante’s activities:

“Ohio laws don’t apply here. This place runs under the Code of Infante.”

NEW PATH FORWARD FOR CITY

That is the city’s reputation Mayor Mientkiewicz must contend with as he attempts to forge a new path for Niles government.

On the night of his appointment by the Democratic precinct members, the mayor had this to say:

“We will focus on infrastructure and aggressively seek matching grant dollars to provide safe streets, upgrade our [information technology] systems, upgrade our supply systems, our parks, etcetera.”

Mientkiewicz also will focus on economic development and “the planning process, something that has been absent for quite some time.”

But before he does any of those things, the mayor must deal with the state-mandated fiscal emergency

declared in 2014.

The city’s finances have been in the hands of a Financial Planning and Supervision Commission.

The emergency will be lifted after city government submits a five-year fiscal recovery plan that includes a balanced budget for each year.

There is other unfinished business in Niles.

The new mayor should request a meeting with state Auditor Yost, his investigators and prosecutors from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office who handled the Infante case.

“Our work is not complete in the Mahoning Valley,” Yost said after Infante was taken away in chains.

In Niles, the state must continue to delve into city government’s activities during the Infante years. During the trial, Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove set aside – not dismissed – four gambling charges and one charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity that had been filed against ITAM No. 39.

Infante and his wife, Judy, ran the McKinley Heights bar until several years ago. They sold the club.

Mayor Mientkiewicz should also get to the bottom of the free water for East-wood Field and the waiving of building permit fees for the Cafaro Co.’s new headquarters. Who authorized them?

Mientkiewicz has 16 months to restore the public’s confidence in Niles city government.

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