Youngstown council reviews revamp of CPED department
YOUNGSTOWN — City council members expressed concerns about requests from community planning and economic development officials to expand the services of consultants and realign the department.
Council’s community planning and economic development (CPED) committee met for two-and-a-half-hours Thursday to hear proposals from Nikki Posterli, the CPED department director and the mayor’s chief of staff, and Beverly Hosey, Community Development Agency director.
Posterli outlined a major overhaul of the CPED department that includes creating two positions — a planning director and a business retention specialist — and hiring people for those jobs as well as filling the open compliance officer position and changing the responsibilities of employees.
Council members said they liked the outline of the plan, but wanted to further discuss some of the particulars before bringing it up for a vote. The committee members plan to meet sometime next week for further discussion.
Since shortly after being hired in September 2019, Posterli has discussed making changes to her department with the most important one being the hiring of a planning director. The city has been without once since 2008 after an employee left and the job was combined with CDA director.
Council tabled legislation at the March 2 meeting to eliminate the position of deputy director of planning, which is vacant, and create the planning director job with an annual salary of $72,398.56 as well as reduce the annual salary of the CDA director from $76,883.87 to $72,398.56.
“Before we can take action, it needs to go back to the drawing board and be worked on,” said Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, and a CPED committee member.
Hosey, who was the department’s compliance director, was appointed in April as CDA director. Taron Cunningham was fired in March 2019 from the job, but is suing the city for reinstatement and back pay. A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge ruled the city improperly fired Cunningham and the matter is being considered by the 7th District Court of Appeals.
A separate proposal to renew the contract of Hunter Morrison as the city’s planning consultant raised issues with some council members at Thursday’s meeting with a decision made to also keep that in committee for further discussion.
Posterli said Morrison had a contract that paid him $25,000 for the final few months of 2019 and that she wanted council to renew his contract for $75,000. He’s not been paid for his work so far this year, she said.
But media reports when Morrison was hired in August 2019 state the contract was for $75 an hour up to $25,000 for a year with an option for a second year under those same dollar amounts.
Morrison has worked as the city’s planner and would help with the search and training of the person selected as the planning director, Posterli said.
“We’ll be paying a trainee at full salary plus Hunter,” said Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, who objected to council making that decision.
She also said that it wasn’t appropriate for Morrison to be paid his hourly fee to run city meetings such as the board of zoning appeals, planning commission and design review committee.
Also, the committee spoke for more than an hour on a contract extension with Mullin and Lonergan Associates, a Pittsburgh firm.
For about two months, the company has helped the city with its five-year plan with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Community Development Block Grant, low-income housing and homelessness programs. It’s being paid $33,735 for that work.
Posterli and Hosey recommended the firm be hired to also help the city with technical assistance to businesses seeking part of the $2,091,689 in CDBG money Youngstown received from the federal government to help deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed contract with Mullin and Lonergan doesn’t have a maximum dollar amount, which led to several council members saying that was an issue. It includes hourly fees such as $55 for an administrative assistant, $140 for professional staff, $165 for senior project managers and $200 for company principals.
“It’s an open-ended checkbook,” Davis said.
Oliver said he’d been “much more comfortable with a local firm” doing the work.
Posterli said Mullin “is of a higher level with expertise” with HUD than local companies for this specific task.
Councilwoman Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward, said she wanted assurances that the firm and not the city would be responsible if there were problems.
The committee recommended the law department draft language for an ordinance for council to consider.