My letter to the Tribune today

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The Tribune published the following today:

Priorities for Warren’s future

JUNE 25, 2017

In coming together to develop a plan for the Fund for Warren’s Future, or FWF, Mayor Doug Franklin and I have two goals to achieve. The first is to increase the city’s economic development activities, but of equal importance is the goal of bringing the entire city together in a common effort.

Because that second goal is so important, I am writing to correct a misconception some people have as a result of reading your June 19th article reporting on our June 15th presentation to City Council.

The list of potential projects the fund might support, which we distributed publicly at that meeting, is intended only to offer examples of projects appropriate for FWF funding.

Before any project is funded, we will have public meetings at which any Warren resident will be welcome to suggest ideas. We also will meet with representatives of as many neighborhood and community groups as possible to get their input. Only then would the FWF board of directors, which does not yet exist, select projects for funding.

We want the priorities of the FWF to be the priorities of the community, and we believe that if Mayor Franklin and I can set aside our political differences and find common ground for the good of Warren, that everyone should be able to do the same. Mayor Franklin and I are both committed to listening to anyone who has something to say about the city’s future.

DENNIS BLANK

Warren

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A little more info on the Fund for Warren’s Future

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GboxUpdateThere will be much more to say about the Fund for Warren’s Future in the coming weeks. At the moment, however, it is a little like how you don’t talk to a pitcher when he has a no-hitter going in the 6th inning. It’s going well, and I don’t want to jinx it. The key things to know today are:

  • It isn’t a real thing yet — just an idea we are trying to put together. I think it will take between a few weeks and a couple of months to finalize it. The main hold up is that there are a bunch of people involved and summer is a busy travel time, so getting all parties together can be a challenge.
  • Yes, Doug Franklin and I are working on this together. No, hell has not frozen over. We both chose to focus on the things we agree on, rather than the things we don’t. It’s a refreshing way to approach problems. I recommend it.
  • The list of projects that the Tribune published (see previous post) in their print edition sounded like the final plan. That is absolutely not the case. The list is intended to provide examples of project the FWF might want to fund. This point is so critical that I’m going to go to all caps in the first time in WE history: BEFORE ANY PROJECT IS FUNDED, ALL WARREN RESIDENTS WILL HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO SUGGEST PROJECTS THEY THINK WILL BE MOST EFFECTIVE. We want the priorities of the FWF to be the priorities of the community.

You can download a PDF of the sample project list here: FWF potentials. Soon we will have a mission statement and some additional information about the FWF structure. We will keep everyone informed of progress in a timely fashion.

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Former rivals promote Warren

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The following article is reprinted, with permission, from this morning’s Tribune. We will elaborate on it later this week:

Former rivals promote Warren

Blank, Mayor Franklin hope to attract businesses

The idea is to develop a non-profit, The Fund for Warren’s Future, that will coordinate the giving of small amounts of money that will provide gap funds allowing the completion of 16 specific projects approved by its board.

The non-profit will use funds currently being gathered from private businesses and organizations, as well as a one-time contribution from the city.

Franklin and Blank are hoping to raise and set aside at least $150,000 — $100,000 from donations provided by private organizations and $50,000 from the city — for the project’s base income.

Blank, a city resident and the editor of the “Warren Expressed” blog, and Franklin for three months have been talking to area business leaders and the heads of non-profits about the development of the fund to determine their interest.

The one-time political rivals who had a contentious battle for the mayor’s seat in 2015, began taking to one another about economic development during Warren’s 0.5 percent income tax increase campaign in 2016. The discussions accelerated in January and culminated in this plan’s outline in March.

As they began making the rounds to present the idea, some people had to get over the surprise of the two men walking in the door together on the joint mission.

Franklin said groups and organizations expressing interest include AVI, Covelli Enterprises, Raymond J. Wean Foundation and the Community Foundation of Mahoning Valley.

“Some of the organizations want to see a financial commitment in making this work,” Franklin said.

Warren City Auditor Vince Flask said the city can fund its $50,000 portion by taking money from the Warren Redevelopment Fund.

“This is not money generated through income taxes,” Flask said.

The city has nearly $500,000 in its redevelopment fund account that is generated from rent paid by organizations using city-owned buildings.

The fund is used to pay for expenses associated with the former Gibson Building and for the retirements of bonds.

During Thursday’s presentation to City Council’s Economic Development Committee, Blank outlined some issues he believes are hurting the city’s ability to reverse the decline it has been experiencing over the last 20 years or more, including in population, housing values, workforce participation, educational opportunities, income and governmental resources.

Blank said that these issues must be addressed in some fashion before the city looks at the possibility of hiring a person or contracting with a firm to do economic development.

“The cost of hiring a firm to do economic development could be as high as $150,000 per year, which, if the wrong person or firm is hired, may be wasted,” Blank said.

Franklin emphasized that the city already has some economic development partners, including Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Warren Redevelopment and Planning, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and its own community development department in providing economic development assistance.

Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-at large, called the plan a good first step, but wants a more detailed explanation on how Franklin and Blank will accomplish their goals.

“I would like to see neighborhood beautification included in this, because I believe you have to wash your car before you sell it,” Colbert said. “We have to make the city more attractive to businesses and more attractive to people looking to purchase homes.”

Colbert said the cost of buying a home in Warren with its older housing stock is not that much less expensive than the cost of buying in a neighboring community where the homes are newer and more updated.

“People are looking for value, so we must do those things to make the city more attractive and add value,” he said.

Colbert questioned whether the administration has both the will and the resources to accomplish these goals.

Councilman Eugene Mach, D-7th Ward, would like to see more details of The Fund for Warren’s Future plan before committing city money to it.

“This is a great start and I am pleased the administration and business community are looking at ways to try to turn things around,” Mach said. “This is something I can support, but I want to make sure we have a solid plan, which is something I think will be presented in the next few of meetings.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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He was a Warren guy

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91753c76-059e-49d4-a37b-38fc42e586fbRoger Ailes died today. He was 77 and probably the most famous person ever, to have grown up in Warren.

I met him in 1988 after reading a story about him in the Wall Street Journal. He was already moderately famous, having been a top political consultant to Presidents Nixon, Reagan and GHW Bush.

But until I read the Journal article, I had no idea he was from Warren. The opening story of the Journal piece was how Roger threw a guy into the lobby fountain in a Hyatt Hotel when an argument they were having took a heated turn. He was a Warren guy.

At the time I was the marketing director at Fortune magazine, and I wanted to get him to speak at a conference we were planning for later in the year in Palm Springs. I called him a couple of times but got no call back.

So I called then-Mayor Dan Sferra and asked, “who knows this guy?”

Pappy,” he replied, referring to former Warren cop and then Safety Service Director Steve Papalas. I called Pappy and asked, “how do I get this guy to call me back?” Pappy told me how, and I called Ailes’ office again. I ask his secretary to take down my message verbatim, and she agrees. The message:

“If you don’t call me back immediately, Pappy is going to come to New York and kick your fat ass all the way down Fifth Avenue.”

Five minutes later my phone rang and a laughing Ailes asked, “How do you know Pappy?”

Ailes spoke at the Fortune event, and a casual friendship between us ensued. His office and mine were not far apart and we got together occasionally, in unfashionable places, for a burger at lunch or a shot and beer after hours. It turned out we were also neighbors with a fondness for the same local Mexican restaurant.

We talked about the business we were both in, but the conversation always drifted to Warren; people we knew, old stories, places we loved. We was a Warren guy.

In 1996, when Fox News was founded, he offered me a job as marketing director there. I declined, not so much because I knew my politics wouldn’t be a good fit, but because I thought they had no chance of success. CNN was so dominant that MSNBC was lucky to get a 5-10% share. The world did not seem to want, or need, a third 24-hour news channel. Shows you what I know.

We kept in touch a couple more years, but with Fox’s spectacular success Roger became harder to see informally. He was now living in the world of bodyguards and paparazzi. He also moved to a better neighborhood. We drifted apart.

But in 2003 I needed a pretty big business favor from him, and got it in a heartbeat, without any questions. When I moved back to Warren he supported the Garden District (where he grew up) and has been a generous contributor to many local causes; always without fanfare.

We were worlds apart in politics, but I can say that about a lot of people I like. Politics isn’t usually the deciding factor for how we choose our friends. We look for something more real, more personal, more enduring, and Roger was a Warren guy.

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If you are interested in knowing more about Ailes, who was one of the most successful media executives, ever, I recommend Gabe Sherman’s “The Loudest Voice In The Room: How The Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – And Divided A Country.” Roger hated that book and fought hard to stop its publication. But it has some really interesting stuff in it about his early years in Warren, Ohio U., and in Cleveland working for Mike Douglas. In my view, it is pretty balanced. Credit is given where due, but it is not a love note.

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Here they go again

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There was a lazy, disorganized, and ultimately unsuccessful, effort made last year to replace Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership as the administrative arm of the Trumbull County Land Bank. The idea then was that the TC Engineers could “do the job cheaper.” The motivation wasn’t to save any entity money; it was for the Engineer to get control of the “administrative” fees that come with the demolition grants. It’s very questionable that they could tear down houses less expensively, since TNP has won national recognition for their efficiency, but there was no conversation about the other end of the money funnel. TNP wrote the grant applications that have brought more than $10 million to Trumbull County for residential demolitions. Without winning those grants there would be no administrative fees to fight over. Now it looks like the Engineer and his cronies int the county government are taking another run at the money. The Tribune is on to them, as are a lot of people who follow the effort to fight blight. But this will take constant vigilance. See the Tribune editorial from last Sunday, reprinted below with their permission.

 *  *  *

Motivation questioned for COG proposal

MAY 14, 2017

But questions posed by Trumbull County officials to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine about the formation of a Trumbull County Council of Governments entity, or a COG, focused not only on the legalities of using the collaboration to demolish buildings in various subdivisions, but also on creating “Council of Governments” staff and allocating public funds to operate.

The questions were posed by Prosecutor Dennis Watkins after Trumbull County commissioners and Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith began exploring ways to work with other local townships and municipalities, in what they said was an attempt to fight blight.

Collaboration and regionalized efforts are something that we have long advocated, and if that’s what it’s all about, then we would give our full support.

But the idea of creating a new governmental entity with the ability to create positions, employ workers and allocate funds to operate — perhaps via new taxes or fees assessed in the county — raises serious questions about how this effort will save money. Rather, we fear it might instead create new bureaucracy.

We further question the motivation when the ongoing task of blight removal and demolition of vacant homes in Trumbull County has been being handled successfully and efficiently through the Trumbull County Landbank and its contracted management agency, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.

The landbank, established largely due to foresight of Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa, includes properties that have fallen into serious disrepair and that remain in arrears on property tax payments.

We reported just this week, in fact, that Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, or TNP, demolished its milestone 300th home using grant funding. While most of these demolitions have occurred in the city of Warren, the landbank is pushing into other areas for blight removal, specifically now targeting 10 other areas in the county.

TNP has accomplished these demolition projects at a cost of about $8,000 per property (including cleanup and regrading) — which comes in about $1,000 less than the $9,000 statewide average for similar blight removal projects.

Additionally, it works to save and rehabilitate salvageable properties and has done this successfully with about 200 homes.

While it’s true some homes may fall into disrepair outside the auspices of the Trumbull County Landbank, the number of those properties pales in comparison.

Legal advice sought by Trumbull officials from DeWine’s office also dealt with issues like creating, hiring and maintaining COG employees, as well as questions about the legality of purchasing, leasing and otherwise providing facilities for this would-be entity. These questions raise suspicions about the motivation behind the effort that could lead to new fees or taxes for funding purposes.

The purpose of any collaborative effort should always be to find new efficiencies, after all, not new ways to hire workers and spend money.

We hope the county’s plan to create a COG is an attempt to increase efficiencies in government and not an attempt to grow the power or control of any one department or public official.

We are pleased to see our elected officials have scheduled two public hearings in order to discuss the proposal with their constituents.

We urge strong attendance at this meeting, which will be an important opportunity for residents to ask questions and voice opinions on the possible Council of Governments creation.

The hearings are scheduled for 11 a.m. May 23 and 6:30 p.m. May 24 in the Trumbull County Commissioners hearing room, fifth floor of the county administration building, 160 High St. NW, Warren.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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