Last night at City Council

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warren-council-swearing-inMy last post ended with the question, “will anyone speak up at Council in opposition” to the latest stupid idea from the administration — this one to confiscate money from the Enterprise Funds — you know, the parts of the city government that actually provide services to citizens like drinking water, sewers and garbage removal — and give it to Community Development, the part of government of which no one is quite sure of what is does. Well, I’m happy to report that the answer is “yes.” Former Mayor and current Councilman-at-Large Dan Sferra said this to the Mayor in open session:

“In regards to taking money from the Enterprise Funds to subsidize Community Development, I want to say that this is a really bad idea and a very dangerous precedent. I will not vote for it, and I will urge my colleagues to oppose it as well.
Community Development has to stand on its own, as do the Enterprise Funds. I realize Community Development has been through some rough times, but so has every other department in the city. We used to have 80 cops; now we have 50. The money you want to take from waste water is needed there. That plant was build when I was Mayor and needs major upgrades.
I only wish you’d spoken to me, or to Mr. Colbert, or to any of us, before pursuing this idea. I could have saved you a lot of trouble and money, because I’d have told you then what I’m telling you now: this is a very bad idea.”
The Mayor responded with, “Thank you Dan.”
It’s ironic that this exchange took place last night, as the only other major event was the 10-0 vote in favor of raising the Warren license plate fee by $5.00. Whatever you may think of that idea, it was positioned as necessary for improving Warren’s street. Not because that amount will fix the streets, but so that we had a small fund available to serve as the “matching portion” of potential state and federal grants available to fix Warren streets, which usually require the city to put up 10-20% as its share.
This is a good example of Enzo and Doug’s priorities; every department of city government is starved for funding, but they want to take it away from essential services to preserve a couple of jobs for cronies in Community Development.

 

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Another stupid idea

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science_kidTonight will be the first City Council meeting since Enzo and Doug’s plan to raid the city’s enterprise funds of more than $200,000, in order to subsidize the Community Development department, was reported by the Tribune.

Enzo argues that CD does so much work bringing new businesses to Warren that the enterprise funds (water, water pollution, etc) should help fund their activities, since it brings revenue to those funds.

This idea is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, it’s almost certainly illegal. Niles tried to do something similar recently and got smacked down by the State Auditor almost immediately. There are good reasons for keeping enterprise funds separate from the general fund. If you turn the enterprise funds into piggy banks for the politicians you’ll be paying Poland Spring prices for your tap water. But Enzo the Lawyer must know better. Let see what the State thinks.

Second, why Community Development? You could make the argument Enzo and Doug are making for any city department. Don’t firemen make the city safe for new businesses? But they picked the department City Council is least likely to want to help. Director Mike Keys often reminds people, including Council members, that his department “does not do economic development; we just pass through HUD funds.” CD wants the money to keep their jobs, since their only source of funding comes from the Federal government (mostly HUD) — and it’s drying up.

HUD allows the city to use 25% of their annual grant to “manage” the distribution of those funds. Most cities also use those administrative resources to apply for other grants to fund additional city programs, but Warren’s CD department doesn’t do that. The HUD funding is shrinking in general, but is partially based on the size of the city, so as Warren shrinks, so does our funding.

Community Development is circling the drain but Enzo and Doug are trying to reverse the gravitational field. I wonder if they’ll make such an bold and creative effort when it comes time to cut cops and firemen?

Third, why are we paying our retired Auditor, and his partner, the retired Director of Water Pollution Control, both of whom are already drawing nice city pensions, $200 an hour to advise us on how to circumvent Ohio law? Only within the walls of the Mansion on Mahoning would this pass the smell test. Former Auditor Dave Griffing worked for the city for 30 years, the last twenty as Auditor, the final two years of which he mailed in his work from his retirement home in Florida, putting in an occasional appearance at City Council looking tan and relaxed.

His partner, Tom Angelo, also worked a long time for the city. Among his notable achievements was helping drag the city into the Patriot Water law suit, which cost Warren $250,000. Their firm, Municipal Treatment Systems has a web site that doesn’t mention their names.

Before you say, “all politicians and city employees are the same” let me stop you. There are two retired Directors of Safety and Service still living in Warren, and both of them devote significant amounts of time volunteering to help the city; neither would consider being paid for their work. As one of them told me recently: “I made a good living working for the city of Warren. The least I can do is give back a little and try to help.

But some elected official see the city treasury as funding for their private employment agency for their friends and family — just another trough to feed at.

Finally, and this may be the worst aspect of this whole, smelly adventure, it was all done in secrecy until the Tribune broke the story. Not only did Enzo and Doug fail to consult City Council in general, they didn’t even speak to the Chairpersons of the Water, Finance or Community Development committees, those most affected by their plan, to vet the idea in advance.

Enzo and Doug govern the city by fiat, in secret. It will be interesting to see if any Councilperson makes a stand against this overreach tonight at 6:00.

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Madam Mayor?

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madam-secretary_I really don’t know why Doug Franklin wastes his time working for the city for a measly 80 grand or so a year when he could be making that per episode writing politic fiction for television. He’d be great writing for House of Cards, or Madame Secretary. If you enjoy political  fiction check out today’s Tribune article in which a number of local elected officials and community leaders express skepticism over the $90,000 the city is investing in a new comprehensive plan, since they did absolutely nothing to implement the 2009, $182,000 Warren Strategic Plan also known as the Poggemeyer Study.

Former RAC chairman Roy Yancey, referring to efforts to work with the Mayor, is quoted as saying: “It was (like) beating our heads against the wall.”

Not true” claims the Mayor, who goes on the say that the majority of the RAC “10 point plan” was completed. He states:

The bike trail, the downtown farmer’s market, the Mahoningside power plant property, and historical lighting downtown, which was part of the Poggemeyer study, but not a part of the 10-point plan, are all done,” Franklin said. “The Education and Medical Corridor is nearly complete. We are working with the Planning Commission to do more in getting the Peninsula area included in our Community Reinvestment Area (CRA), so we can market it to investors.

The truth is a long way from the Mayor’s version. First of all, it was an 11 point plan, but we’ll come back to that later. Second, the only reason is was cut down to 11 points is that we couldn’t get the Mayor to do anything in the 200 page report, so we thought a “Cliff Notes” version might spur action.

The other reason for the 11 points was that the overwhelming, number one, recommendation in the Strategic Plan was that the city hire a planner to oversee and coordinate planning and progress. The Mayor claimed for two years the city couldn’t afford to do that while steadily wasting money on unproductive hires like converting two highly paid staff members of Packard Music Hall into grant writers, who don’t actually write grants.

So we finally gave up on the planner and went for a project-based recommendation.

Let’s dissect the mayor’s quote above. He takes credit for completing the bike trail. What he means is that the state funding was spent to build the trail, but what the 11 point plan asked for was a plan to market the trail and make it into a productive community asset. That has never been undertaken at all.

Then he implied that he deserves some credit for the farmers market, which is successfully operating totally due to the efforts of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnerships; the city had nothing to do with it.

He states that “The Education and Medical Corridor is nearly complete.” Really? I’d like to see that plan. No one I spoke to who would be in a position to know can recall a meeting in the last two years to even discuss it. What has been done Doug? Why keep your plan a secret? We’re all interested in seeing it.

Progress on the Peninsula development? Don’t make me laugh. When TNP got the architecture school at Kent State to create dozens of development ideas and present them to the city, the mayor didn’t even show up to see their work.

Back to the 11th point; this one was so abhorrent to the mayor that from day one he dropped it from the list and never referred to it again. We asked that the city set aside a very small amount of money — $25,000 — to promote and market the city. But we don’t do that here. Warren continues to lose businesses left and right, and 10 people a week keep moving away, but the city will do nothing to change that.

Oh wait, I’m wrong. Now they do want to raise your water bill to fund the Community Development department, (which is almost certainly illegal), because CD does so much to bring new business into the city. I’d like to see the list of their accomplishments in the past 12 years, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that either.

Instead of a marketing budget the city spent $50,000 to read water meters from an airplane without first discovering that the results could not be fed into the billing system. That’s planning Warren style.

Mayor Franklin and his administration has done nothing — zero — to implement the Strategic Plan, and they never will. Having a plan means committing to action, and their actions are limited to managing the decline of our city.

Maybe it’s time we had someone in Warren to call Madam Mayor. Women know the value of good planning.

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Warren Homecoming schedule online now

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pc22-2Check out the Warren Homecoming schedule which you can view at www.warrenhomecoming.com. It will be updated weekly until the Homecoming celebration planned for September 23rd through the 26th.

Warren Homecoming is being sponsored by the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County (FACT). FACT Director Adam Gregory said, “We already have nearly 20 events on the schedule with more coming. Anyone making the trip to Warren this September will have a broad array of activities to choose from, including some intended just for kids, which we will announce soon.”

We are working hard to get the word out. The new web-based calendar is in addition to the TV commercial currently running on both cable and broadcast, as well as our robust Facebook campaign. Be sure to visit us on Facebook and like the “Warren Homecoming 2016” page.”

Anyone who wishes to be placed on the Warren Homecoming email list should visit Facebook and sign up. They will receive an automatically updated calendar every week.

The Warren Homecoming television spot was created pro bono by Jim Fogarty and 2 Ticks & the Dog Productions. Brandon Giovannone of MDI Studios Inc. created the web schedule; both are Warren companies.

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Budget blues

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blues3There was a Warren City Council budget committee meeting this past Monday. I was unable to attend but have spoken to four elected officials who where there. I did not ask their permission to quote them, so I will limit myself to a brief update on the key facts.

The biggest new fact is that April tax collections were a major disappointment. April is traditionally the month in which the city collects the largest amount of income tax. In April of 2015 we collected approximately $3 million. This April the number was $1.8 million — a shortfall of $1.2 million.

There is no explanation or analysis that makes that a good thing, however, there are explanations that make it less bad. For example, April 30th was a Saturday, so checks that arrived in Saturday’s mail weren’t opened until at least Monday and will show up in May’s revenue numbers. Also,  history is not always an accurate predictor of the future, so the numbers are always going to bounce around a little and everything may even out in the end.

But it is also true that a $1.2 million shortfall represents a huge potential problem, especially when added to a number of other negative budget developments this year that have been written about here previously. For example.

In addition to the tax shortfall, we can also report that Mayor Franklin announced no contingency plans, the finance committee neither recommended nor took any action, and the budget was not discussed in any way at the subsequent City Council meeting on Wednesday evening.

Stay tuned.
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