Instagram-gate

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RachelThe phone has been ringing off the hook since the Tribune published an article this morning about Doug and Enzo’s executive assistant’s recent Instagram post (right) calling the Garden District a “poster child for grant money” and “a cancer kid for mo’ money.”

The calls included one from a WFMJ reporter wanting to do a segment on it, but I was not able to meet with her in time, ironically, because I was driving back from Detroit, where I had attended the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference. Representatives from all over the United States were there learning the latest techniques for dealing with this problem, including city officials from Youngstown, Akron and Cleveland. But only the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership staff and I were there representing Warren. Doug and Enzo were too busy to attend.

I emailed the WFMJ reporter this comment:

“This Instagram post is just the most recent example of the cynical tribalism that characterizes government in Warren. I don’t believe that the Mayor’s assistant would have posted such an outrageous comment without the express consent of her boss, or at least the confidence that nothing in her message contradicted his opinions on the topic.

The Mayor says in the Tribune article that her comments do not reflect his views, but more than a week has passed since they appeared and he has not called or emailed me, nor any of the dozens of other volunteers who have worked tirelessly to improve the Garden District, to disavow the comments.

In fact, during the three years we have been volunteering our time and money we have only ever heard from the Mayor when there was a photo opportunity to be had. Our requests for local code enforcement by the city in the Garden District have been ignored. 

People following this incident have to ask themselves whether the selfless work of community volunteers would have been slandered in this way were I not running as an Independent candidate against the Mayor in November, and whether this is an appropriate act on the part of a city employee who reports directly to him.”

[Added at 6:22 pm. WFMJ ran this account at 6:00 pm today.]

The answers to those questions is “no” in my opinion, but let’s pretend that you agree with Doug that she has a right to express her opinion, as he said in the article.

Now consider for a moment, what happens when a business person is considering making an investment in Warren. What is the first thing they do?

They call the Mayor’s office to learn more about Warren. And who answers that phone call? Why, it is the author of that Instagram post, the woman who feels that the biggest and most successful neighborhood revitalization effort in the city is actually a “shit hole.”

Is it any wonder Warren continues to atrophy under Doug and Enzo?

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Garden District reality

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Muccio cartoonI spent Tuesday in Pittsburgh at the 5th Annual Community Development Summit where I helped present the story of the creation and development of the Garden District, along with Matt Martin of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and Shawn Carvin, his TNP colleague who helps oversee the management of the Trumbull County Land Bank.

We had an audience of more than 50, highly engaged professionals who listened to a 45 minutes presentation and had lots of interesting questions after. This was a way to focus positive attention on Warren to a regional crowd.

Next week we are going to Detroit, where the organizers of the “Reclaiming Vacant Properties” conference have requested to see this presentation. The thing that makes the story of the Garden District so interesting to professionals working in the fields of blight remediation and vacant property use is (at least in part) the fact that we did everything we did without receiving a single government grant.

Oh, we had plenty of help, for sure, but it was all private. Bill and Jan Casey donated $25,000 for the renovation of a house; the Trumbull 100 and the RJ Wean Foundation were the next biggest funders, followed by the Dominion Foundation, Toms of Maine and the PNC Bank Foundation. Together they gave us over half of the approximately $100,000 we raised to date. But just as impressively, we also received about $40,000 from more than 200 local businesses and private citizens. One of the reasons we have done so well with the foundations is that they are impressed by the grass roots support of Warren residents.

DSCN0692We received not one penny in Federal, State or Warren City money for the improvements made, however, to be clear, the combination of federal and state funds made it possible to demolish the worst-of-the-worst houses in the Garden District, and that produced a considerable benefit through addition by subtraction to the neighborhood along side the improvements we made.

At this point I should probably give you the list: dozens of improved lots, 15 stone planters made from reclaimed foundation walls, etc., etc.; but instead, I’m going to ask you to take a drive (or better yet, a walk) through the Garden District and see for yourself how this neighborhood has transformed from Area 51 into a real asset to the city. We will soon have a new spring flowers planted. Mark your calendars for July 24th and the second annual Garden District Crawl, and check out this short video narrated by the old fat guy and produced pro bono by our friends at Clear Choice Creative.

Any of these options will allow you to judge for yourself whether this community-wide effort to save an historic Warren neighborhood has been worth the effort.

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411 on 911

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Ford_E350_ambulance2Rhonda Bennett’s letter in today’s Tribune (below) adds a new and important perspective on the question of Warren giving up it’s 911 dispatching service to the county. We have an aging community; Warren is old and getting older by the day. We are still waiting for some mathematical evidence from Doug and Enzo as to how the consolidation will save the city money, but the local need for service is clearly growing stronger. Warren must find ways to reduce city expenses, but I remain unconvinced that this is the area to target.

“DEAR EDITOR:

I would like to “weigh in” on the discussion about consolidating Warren’s 911 Call Center with Trumbull County 911.

In February of this year, my husband’s blood pressure had bottomed out and he was having difficulty breathing. I called 911 because I needed immediate medical assistance and an ambulance. Warren Fire Department arrived lickety-split and they were able to stabilize him because Warren Fire has EMTs on their department.

We all had to wait 15 minutes for Howland EMS to show up in order to have my husband transported to the hospital. Warren Fire was not able to transport him. However, they were the ones who did all the necessary medical procedures to stabilize him.

With Howland EMS suspending services to the City of Warren and if Warren’s 911 Call Center gets moved to the county, I believe there will be a serious decrease in the quality of emergency services to all the neighborhoods of Warren.

I am aware that the city is experiencing income tax shortages because of the loss of major businesses. I am willing to be patient as the administration works to make adjustments to continue to provide services to the residents. However, I am not willing to sacrifice access to 911 emergency services for an alleged saving for the city of less than $270,000 a year.

Warren has an aging population and the majority of the ambulance services in Warren are tied up with transports to and from nursing homes. I have aging parents and I want to know that if they need to call because of a medical emergency, 911 will be there for them like it was for my husband.

I hope council will review all possible angles and scenarios with regards to the 911 Call Center before a decision is made that could jeopardize the safety of the residents. Remember, it is an election year.

Rhonda J. Bennett

Warren”

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The barber shop chronicles 2

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DSCN1193You may recall that a few weeks ago I launched a new campaign initiative I call the barber shop chronicles. The idea was suggested by Josh who said the neighborhood barber shop was one of the last places in America where one can expect a good political conversation to break out at anytime. The idea is to visit a new neighborhood barber shop every few weeks and see what transpires. My first visit was to Joe in the Look Sharp shop in the Elm Road Plaza. Yesterday I visited Clyde’s Barbering & Hairstyling at 1601 Youngstown Road, and sat down for a trim by Clyde himself.

Before mentioning my run for Mayor, I asked Clyde how long he’d been in this location, and what changes he’d like to see on Youngstown Road. That was all the encouragement he needed. He’s been there 36 years and the changes have mostly not been for the good, although he sees some improvement of late. He would like to see more small businesses locate to Youngstown Road to take advantage of the traffic that passes through Warren on route 422 as people travel from Cleveland to Youngstown.

Clyde was more eloquent on the virtues and characteristics of capitalism then were some of my B-school professors. “Capital can go anywhere it wants, so if this city wants more capital it better put out the welcome mat for it or it will be moving on down the road,” he warned. “This area has always had too many people who only want a paycheck, and not enough people willing to take a risk and start a business here,” he also said — and I think he is dead right on that, too.

Finally we talked a bit about life in general, and Clyde mentioned how important a 12 year stay in Hawaii, after he got out of the service, had been to him later in life, and how much he enjoys visiting other places. “That’s how you learn, man. You have to get out of your comfort zone and see how other people do it.”

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The future can be bright

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DSCN1180Yesterday offered as uplifting and energizing an event as ever I have attended in Warren. Graduate and undergraduate students from Kent State University’s architecture and landscape architecture programs came to town and presented their ideas for Warren at the WJ Wean Foundation building downtown. The students had spent the entire semester studying several sections of Warren: the peninsula (which they are calling the Market Street River District), the Garden District and the area around the west side’s AmVets Park.

More than 20 students, including two from Warren (Rueben Shaw II and Elliot Killen) presented impressively well thought out ideas which were beautifully rendered in photos, drawings and 3-D models. They, along with several of their professors, gave us brief oral presentations of the ideas, and then we were able to move from station to station talking to the students responsible for the individual ideas to learn the reasoning behind their concepts. They had all put many hours of research, including multiple trips to Warren, into their work. Most of them know a lot more about Warren than the average resident, and more importantly, they have a far higher impression of the city and its potential than the majority of residents. It wasn’t humanly possible to leave that room without believing in the future of Warren. Of course, we’ll have to actually work on implementing the ideas.

If you missed the event you can stop in the TNP offices at 170 North Park Avenue and look at the displays; most have enough text attached to them to make them self-self-explanitory. I especially enjoyed seeing the customized street signage and traffic signals that give Warren a uniques branding element. The reimagined SCOPE offices that include retirement living and senior exercise facilities in terrific. A remodeled Reeves Apartment Building becomes a neighborhood anchor instead of the decaying eyesore it is today. There are terrific ideas for kayaking and bicycling storage and facilities. There is a model of what a much-needed community fitness center might look like.

DSCN1175They have detailed and inventive ideas for improving vacant lots that any citizen could adopt tomorrow and plug into TNP’s “Lots to Love” program which offers a $6000 per lot budget for realizing the Kent students’ vision. I can’t say enough good about the work these student did on behalf of the people of Warren; it deserves your attention. [The Trib has a good article and photos today of the event.]

Before March when I announced my independent candidacy for Mayor of Warren, I’d have ended this post with the previous paragraph. But I’m in it to win it as they say. If you don’t want my political take on this please stop reading now.

Unfortunately, the only elected Warren official to attend (all were invited) was retiring 4th Ward Councilman Greg Bartholomew. I did not see his successor in the crowd, but could have missed him. Tony Iannucci, who leads WRAP, which owns much of the peninsula, attended, but many people one might think would be interested in this sort of event were conspicuous by their absence, in particular Doug and Enzo, and Mike Keys. If you ran this city wouldn’t you at least be interested in seeing what the largest educational institution in our area came up with as redevelopment ideas for the city?

But this project was organized by TNP and Doug and Enzo prefer to pretend they alone have a voice in what our collective future holds. TNP’s activism only serves to highlight their inactivity in shaping a future for Warren.

There was considerable expense involved in producing the displays and models the students produced and these funds were donated by my campaign Treasurer, Cloyd Abruzzo, who is a KSU alum.

Enjoy the additional photos of the event below.

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