By ED RUNYAN
After more than seven years as Warren safety-service director, Enzo Cantalamessa wants to move to law director, where Greg Hicks has held the job 27 years and seeks re-election.
Both will be on the ballot in the May 7 Warren Democratic primary. There is no Republican running.
Why does Cantalamessa think voters should make the switch to him? One answer is the amount of legal services Hicks has assigned to outside law firms. Cantalamessa says the total is $2.1 million since 2004.
“It’s a matter of routine that the current law director outsources most, if not all, legal work,” Cantalamessa said during a recent interview.
For example, when the city has to defend an allegation an employee was wrongfully terminated, “that gets outsourced typically to law firms or lawyers out of Cleveland, Columbus or Cincinnati at an extreme premium,” Cantalamessa said.
“There is a lot of legal talent here in the Mahoning Valley. Why not keep it local, if it has to be contracted out?”
Cantalamessa, who has been a practicing attorney 16 years, also challenges the use of the Columbus firm of Frost, Brown Todd of Columbus to defend the city in a lawsuit filed by the environmental group Freshwater Accountability Project regarding contaminants the city’s wastewater treatment plant discharged into the Mahoning River.
The contaminant levels rose because of contaminants from Patriot Water Treatment on Sferra Drive, the city contends. The city settled the suit for about $115,000, but legal fees so far are over $500,000. Patriot was also named a defendant in the suit, which has been settled, according to federal court documents.
Cantalamessa said the city has an expert, Ed Haller, water pollution control director, who could have worked with a local firm to resolve the suit for much less cost.
Cantalamessa believes Hicks has become complacent as law director and provided The Vindicator with an undated Facebook post in which Hicks commented that he goes to Florida “every January for a month or so.”
When asked about it, Hicks said he spends “a week here, a week there” each year in Florida but does not “spend a month there every year.”
Hicks said he does not agree the cost of outside attorneys has been $2.1 million since 2004 and cautioned against counting amounts paid to the insurance company HCC Public Risk Claim Service because those numbers might include settlement amounts the city’s insurance company paid to plaintiffs on the city’s behalf.
There were many HCC Public Risk entries in a printout of payments to outside law firms Cantalamessa provided to The Vindicator.
Hicks says the amount of money the city spends on outside attorneys is not unusual.
The Freshwater case involved environmental law, which is “very specialized,” Hicks said. “No doubt we were putting bad stuff in the waterways,” Hicks said of the city’s treatment plant.
Hicks provided The Vindicator with an Aug. 17, 2017, notice of violation from Haller and Cantalamessa to Patriot Water that listed the contaminants the city felt Patriot had put into its wastewater, which flowed into the wastewater treatment plant.
Patriot treats water from the gas and oil industry. Freshwater had filed its lawsuit against the city and Patriot six weeks earlier. Patriot no longer sends treated industrial wastewater into the city’s wastewater plant.
The Freshwater settlement was a “win” because the cost could have been much higher, Hicks said.
Hicks said Cantalamessa does not have enough experience to be law director, but Cantalamessa said he has worked on “all types” of law, including misdemeanor and felony criminal cases, civil, administrative “and everything in between” and has worked in all levels of courts in Ohio, including the Supreme Court.
The law director handles civil matters such as defending lawsuits, but also supervises a team of attorneys who prosecute criminal cases in Warren Municipal Court.
Two candidates are running in Democratic primary for Warren law director. An * denotes the incumbent.
Address: 437 Mahoning Ave. NW
Education: Law degree, University of Akron; bachelor’s degree, Youngstown State University.
Family: Not applicable.
Priority: Continue to provide legal representation based on experience, integrity and fairness.
Address: 600 Roselawn Ave. NE
Education: Law degree, Barry University College of Law; bachelor’s degree, John Carroll University; John F. Kennedy High School graduate.
Family: Wife, Dawn; two children.
Priority: Stop wasteful spending on outside attorneys and law firms and aggressively handle code enforcement to preserve and rehabilitate our neighborhoods and stabilize property values.