At first glance, we were willing to support Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown’s decision to drive a new government-owned vehicle bought with Water Department funds. He would have been following in the footsteps of other mayors who enjoyed such a perk.
But we changed our minds when it was publicly revealed that the anemic general fund will be tapped to reimburse the water fund about half the $28,757.50 cost of the vehicle.
We, thus, urge Mayor Brown, who has been in office since Jan. 1, to defuse a politically explosive issue by canceling the order for the 2018 Ford Explorer.
Since it’s being delivered through the Cooperative Purchasing Program run by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, we’re confident state officials would be willing to intercede on Youngstown’s behalf.
Here’s the bottom line: The 2018 general fund budget has a projected deficit of $2.29 million, which means spending cuts are the only option for erasing the red ink.
As we noted in a recent editorial urging the mayor to face the reality of a shrinking city, there’s nothing on the horizon to provide the needed revenue to eliminate the deficit. Thus, reducing the budget is the only answer, and because most of the general fund is dedicated to employee wages and benefits, layoffs are inevitable.
The administration has come up with a revised spending plan that reduces the negative balance to $1.05 million. However, the plan does not include furloughs. Sooner rather than later, Brown will have to take the step he insisted during last year’s campaign he would avoid at all costs.
“I don’t want to send anybody home,” he was quoted as saying.
Brown has no choice but to reduce city government’s payroll, and when he does, his decision to buy a brand new Ford Explorer will come back to bite him in the deficit.
How can he justify withdrawing $14,000-plus from the city’s operating fund while he sends out layoff notices? Here’s the simple answer: He can’t.
To make matters worse, the administration must figure out how to assign a cash value to the mayor’s driving time.
This wouldn’t be an issue if Brown were using the Explorer exclusively for water-related business. But he intends to utilize the vehicle for all city business and will take it home.
Under the charter, the mayor is financially responsible for water issues, so there’s justification for using department money to buy a vehicle.
But there’s no way he can justify taking money out of the general fund at a time of tight budgets and potential employee layoffs.
Brown must know his credibility is on the line.
During the campaign, the former member of city council and the Youngstown Board of Education pledged to be a good steward of the public treasury and to bring honesty to city government.
He won the Democratic primary last May by focusing on then Mayor John A. McNally’s refusal to resign after he was convicted of four misdemeanor charges stemming from his role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal enterprise. McNally was a Mahoning County commissioner when he sought to block the county’s purchase of the former Southside Medical Center at the behest of prominent Mahoning Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.
During his re-election bid, McNally became vulnerable to the charge that he lacked integrity and honesty because of his criminal record.
Brown defeated McNally in the Democratic primary and went on to win the general election.
Now, the new mayor’s integrity is on the line. It’s clear he needs the advice of people who aren’t trying to curry favor with him,
We would advise Brown to talk things over with members of his transition team who continue to screen applicants for Cabinet positions.
The mayor should consider using his own vehicle and charge the city for gas. He would have access to the pumps at the water and street department locations.
What Brown must not do is keep the 2018 Ford Explorer. Here’s a reminder of the reality of the city of Youngstown: The median income of a family of four is $24,000.