Youngstown’s mayor, city council at loggerheads over major issues

There were issues between Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and members of city council before the election.

And they seem to be getting worse, particularly in recent weeks.

During last year’s mayoral campaign, a majority of council members didn’t back Brown even though they’re all Democrats.

Council members Julius Oliver, D-1st; Lauren McNally, D-5th; and Basia Adamczak, D-7th, solidly supported Sean McKinney, the former buildings and grounds commissioner and an independent candidate, who lost a close race to Brown.

Also, Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th, supported Janet Tarpley, a former councilwoman from that ward and also an independent, in the general election.

Brown spoke of working with all of city council – despite who the members supported – and things seemed to be going smoothly even though McKinney challenged the outcome of the election in court. McKinney ended that legal challenge Jan. 31.

But whatever harmony there was between council and Brown didn’t last long after I reported Feb. 17 that the board of control had approved the purchase of a new Ford Explorer for the mayor’s use.

The water fund originally was going to pay the entire cost of $28,757.50 for the vehicle, but upon further review by the law department it was determined that about half of the expense would come from the general fund.

Council members expressed outrage at their Feb. 21 meeting with McNally saying the purchase “sounds illegal to me.” Adamczak said Brown should “use a vehicle already in the [city’s] fleet.”

Things were relatively quiet again until some council members on May 16 questioned a professional service contract Brown plans to sign with 2Deep Entertainment, operated by Terrill Vidale, to serve as coordinator of downtown events and citywide special projects.

Brown has fumbled the appointment. He announced it May 14, but did so in error as the board of control hadn’t – and still hasn’t – voted on the professional services contract.

Law Director Jeff Limbian, who serves on the board of control, said Thursday there should be a special meeting next week to finally approve the contract.

Vidale sat with department heads at Wednesday’s council meeting. Limbian said Vidale isn’t getting paid.

Among the issues with Vidale is he has an outstanding $375,000 loan from the city that helped his business move from Boardman to downtown Youngstown and the city also gives the company money for an annual gospel festival.

Limbian said the contract with Vidale will call for his company to no longer do any events “with the city or in the city.”

Council took issue with the loan with McNally saying her concern was over a “conflict of interest.”

She and other council members also complained about a lack of communication from Brown and Limbian.

Brown said he was “disappointed this is coming up” at a council meeting when members can discuss issues with him privately.

That was two weeks ago.

Two days ago, council members were critical of how Brown was handling the cutting of grass on lots of vacant houses.

The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. ran the program between 2015 and 2017, doing more than 10,000 cuts each year for a flat $200,000 fee.

Under the new program, the YNDC was replaced by seven contractors getting paid $200,000 in total. But the cost is $30 per cut meaning the businesses can do no more than 6,666 cuts unless the city wants to take money away from demolition to fund it.

Davis said: “I’m not happy with it. We were getting it cheaper per cut last year. If we use these companies for multiple lots, it shouldn’t be $30. That’s is too high. We should be getting a better deal.”

Other council members also said they were concerned about the new program even though Brown assured them that he didn’t think it was going to be an issue.

While all this is going on, there isn’t exactly cooperation among the council members.

Oliver, Adamczak, McNally and Davis took control of Wednesday’s council meeting and overhauled committee assignments.

It was a show of strength by the four newer council members against the three more experienced members – Councilmen T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd; Nate Pinkard, D-3rd; and Mike Ray, D-4th.

The latter three made up the powerful Finance Committee and were replaced by McNally as chairwoman, Adamczak as vice chairwoman and Davis as member.

Council combined two of its more influential committees – Housing Community and Economic Development, and Community Development Agency – into one now called Community Planning and Economic Development.

Ray headed CDA and is now just a member of the new committee while Rodgers, who headed the former Housing Community and Economic Development Committee, and Pinkard, who was a member of it, ended up getting completely shut out of the new committee.

Ray tried a procedural move to stop the standing committee from reorganizing and postpone the change, but eventually gave in and agreed to let it happen.

Committee changes are something that occurs every couple of years when members of council decide they want to grab power.

But it really doesn’t matter who serves on the committees because any council member can attend the meetings and provide input and make comments. For example, the most vocal council members at finance committee meetings weren’t the three former members.

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