“There’s never a wrong time to make a right decision.”
That was the explanation then Youngstown Law Director Martin Hume gave me in mid-November to explain why he recommended that four attorneys in the law department be granted raises.
Of the four, one received an 11.6 percent raise, two got 10.1 percent salary increases, and another saw her salary jump by 6.5 percent.
With the city facing a projected $2.5 million to $3 million general-fund deficit by the end of the year and a lame-duck mayor, John A. McNally, serving out the final weeks of his term, it was the wrong time to make this decision.
In a Nov. 19 article, McNally and Hume defended the raises saying the four lawyers are underpaid, are excellent employees, and the city could afford the pay hikes.
“I’m comfortable with the amounts of the raises,” McNally said at the time. “The next administration will have to make its decision. But our administration doesn’t end until Dec. 31. There will be other staffing decisions made by this administration. It’s a four-year term.”
However, to ignore that the city was granting pay raises in a time of economic crisis – even if the amounts don’t put a dent in the general-fund deficit – was a mistake.
When I called Jamael Tito Brown in mid-November about the raises, the then mayor-elect, said: “With the financial situation the city is in, these things should not happen. These are not the type of actions we will tolerate in my administration. I can’t do anything at this point. But when I become mayor, I will address them.”
Brown met Wednesday with the four city attorneys who received the raises – Jeffrey Moliterno, Nicole Alexander, Mark D’Apolito and Kathleen Thompson – and told them he was rescinding the pay hikes and promotions. They can remain in Brown’s administration in their former positions, at least for an interim basis while he and new Law Director Jeff Limbian evaluate the law department’s staff as city attorneys serve at the discretion of the mayor.
Brown told me Wednesday: “At that late period of time [in McNally’s term] and with the city’s financial situation, it wasn’t appropriate. It didn’t sit well with me.”
The decision sets the right tone for the start of Brown’s term as mayor.
That projected $2.5 million to $3 million general-fund deficit is going to result in a lot of cuts.
Those in the previous administration said there were a number of options, including layoffs and furloughs though they somehow hoped that attrition and a possible buyout program would ease the pain.
The city needs to shed as many as 40 employees this year.
Despite that, the previous administration basically kicked the can down the road to Brown to decide how to make up the shortfall.
When he was finance director, David Bozanich met three times in public with city council to discuss the deficit late last year.
Council was looking for scenarios to determine how to make up the shortfall, but received no proposals from the McNally administration.
While Brown was quick to act on rescinding the raises of the four city attorneys, he’s been, shall we say, more deliberate in his decisions to appoint department heads.
To date, only Limbian has been selected.
A water commissioner will likely be in place shortly and Brown’s plan is by the end of the month to appoint people to the positions of law director, buildings and grounds commissioner, public works deputy director, city prosecutor, police chief, fire chief, and parks and recreation director.
Perhaps keeping the buildings and grounds commissioner job vacant – it’s been vacant since the April 2017 resignation of Sean McKinney, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor – is an option to save money.
Because of the city’s financial condition, the most important position is the finance director. That one is going to take a while to fill.
Deputy Finance Director Kyle Miasek is serving as interim finance director while a national search is ongoing.
As for how long that search will take, Brown would only say: “some time.”
City officials need to make the tough decisions on the general fund sooner rather than later.
First, a new finance director isn’t going to be on board anytime soon and when that person is selected it will take a while for him/her to understand the complexities of the city’s financial situation.
Also, with no one applying for the job when it was originally posted, what quality of candidates would be interested in serving as the finance director of a city facing Youngstown’s huge economic challenges with its former finance director being investigated for potential criminal wrongdoing?