To be sure, it’s too early to tell what Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown’s term in office will produce. But, based on the first week, it’s safe to say Brown will, at the very least, remove the dark cloud that has hung over the city for nearly two years.
The cloud formed after then Mayor John A. McNally refused to resign following his conviction on four criminal charges, and the cloud grew larger when McNally’s finance director, David Bozanich, was implicated in the state’s criminal investigation of downtown development projects.
McNally’s guilty plea in February 2016 to state misdemeanor charges stemmed from his role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy during his tenure as Mahoning County commissioner.
Bozanich’s expected indictment is the result of investigators from Ohio Auditor David Yost’s office alleging that a city official accepted a $25,000 bribe from developer Dominic Marchionda.
The Vindicator has learned the official is Bozanich, who denies the allegation.
Marchionda has pleaded not guilty to more than 100 criminal charges relating to his involvement in several downtown projects and is expected to go on trial in March.
McNally not only refused to resign after his conviction but also sought re-election last year. He lost the Democratic nomination to Brown, a former member of city council and the Youngstown Board of Education.
Bozanich resigned Dec. 31 after Brown made it clear during the campaign that the longtime finance director’s days were numbered.
The appointment of a new finance director will be one of the most important decisions the new mayor makes, which is why we applaud him and his transition team for conducting a national search.
Deputy Finance Director Kyle Miasek, who has extensive knowledge of the city’s finances, will serve as interim director.
But what is most encouraging about Mayor Brown’s deliberate approach to filling the position is his decision to hire an “executive on loan” who will “look at our finances and evaluate where we are.” The mayor has said the individual he has in mind is a retired auditor.
We recommended such a move in previous editorials given the fact the former finance director not only left city government under a cloud of suspicion, but he also projected a $2.5 million to $3 million shortfall in the general fund.
By bringing in an outsider to review the city’s books, the mayor is taking politics out of the decisions he will have to make to balance the budget – if the projected deficit is confirmed.
Given that Youngstown’s tax base is not expected to grow in any significant way, and given that most of the general fund is dedicated to employee wages and benefits, layoffs loom large.
During the campaign, Brown said reducing the payroll would be a last resort, but he may not be able to avoid the decision if the independent financial analysis confirms the previous administration’s deficit projections.
ANOTHER NOTABLE ACTION
Mayor Brown’s first week in office also has been notable for his quick action in undoing one of the most irresponsible acts by former Mayor McNally.
Last November, McNally decided to fatten the wallets of several city employees – just weeks before he left office.
He promoted four law department employees and gave three of them raises of more than 10 percent. He also gave the city’s code enforcement and blight remediation superintendent a 15 percent raise after adjusting her job description.
Vindicator Reporter David Skolnick was the first to report on the raises, and he quoted then Mayor-elect Brown as saying the issue would be addresed after he took office.
We believe the urgency with which the mayor rescinded the raises sends an important message to city employees and city taxpayers: A new day has dawned in City Hall.
The mayor’s term is four years, and a lot can happen in that time, which is why we urge Brown to keep the transition committee intact even after it has completed its work screening applicants for managerial positions in city government.
Members of the committee represent a cross-section of the community and have proven to be valuable to the new mayor.
The group can serve as a sounding board for the administration as policies are developed to address the needs of residents and businesses.
The transition committee can also serve as a buffer to the political pressures that will certainly be brought to bear on Mayor Brown on a whole array of issues.