Big win!

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TNPfunThis just in:

Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which manages the Trumbull County Land Reutilization Corporation, better know as the Land Bank, announced this morning that they have been awarded an additional $982,000 in funds from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s “Hardest Hit” fund, to be used for local residential demolitions.

TNP was cited for “exceptional progress” and having “far exceeded” it’s goals in the first phase of the “Hardest Hit” fund distribution, something fewer than 1/3 of the previous recipients received.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the service TNP has given the city of Warren the past four years, and this award is just the latest example.

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Barkley, Brown and Calko

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apcnewsyour-vote-counts-thumb_mainImage1.jpg1I can’t vote tomorrow because voting in either primary would potentially disqualify me from running as an Independent for Warren Mayor in November. If that wasn’t the case I would undoubtably request a Democratic ballot (is there a Republican primary tomorrow?); here are a few thoughts on how I’d be thinking about three races:

I believe it is a privilege to hold elected office, and one that must be earned. That belief is the deciding factor in how I’d vote in at least three races. I support Andy Barkley for Auditor, John Brown for 3rd Ward and Sheila Calko for 4th Ward Councilpersons (I wouldn’t be able to vote in the 4th Ward race since I don’t live there). Each of the three of them have been very active in a variety of community volunteer activities over the past years — many years in some cases. Barkley has served on city council before but has also volunteered his time to the Resident Advisory Committee and other civic activities in the interim. I often disagree with John Brown, but no elected official I can think of is more actively engaged in civic volunteerism in Warren; his efforts related to the bike trail are just one example. Ms. Calko not only volunteers her time, she even has her young son out cleaning up lots too — she’s raising the next generation of volunteers.

Volunteers are holding this town together and there aren’t enough of them. I’ve heard good things about all three opponents facing Barkley, Brown and Calko, but I’ve never met any of them. Perhaps it is because they have not chosen to spend cold early spring mornings outside picking up discarded tires, boarding up abandoned buildings or planting neighborhood gardens. If they truly want to serve the community I think that is the way to prove it. Show how much you care by getting your hands dirty and then maybe I’d vote for you.

Until then, I’ll go with Andy, John and Sheila.

In the 4th Ward race I am also dismayed by the brazen cronyism displayed by Doug and Enzo in support of their candidate. If you missed it, you might want to read about that here.

 

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We got grit

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DSCN1155“I like the sense of determination that people have here. We grit our teeth and push forward. Our streets may be filled with grit, but so are our people.”

“I’d like to see more focus on long term, sustainable, economic development, at a level that helps everyone from the lowest paid employee to the top boss. The world economy is more and more focused on ideas and technology; we need to capture more of that growth.”

 

[Edited by Dennis Blank, Independent candidate for Mayor of Warren]

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Another word on the cameras

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Here is a quote from this morning’s Tribune front page story on the controversy over the city’s pending purchase of video cameras:

“Cantalamessa said critics who are saying they are finding less expensive versions of the cameras are not taking into consideration other aspects of the city’s needs, including the fact the city is requiring them to be solar powered, WiFi downloadable, the company is supplying poles for them to be mounted and they are being housed in bullet proof cases.”

This statement is inaccurate. Here is a link to VEC’s invoice where you can see the camera make and model, the cost for which is separated from additional things like poles and bulletproof covers. And here is a link to one online seller of the exact same model for nearly 40% less. If there is an unaccounted difference let him show it to us in writing rather than via an unsubstantiated verbal claim.

Enzo is also quoted in the Tribune article:

“Cantalamessa agrees there was no bidding process for this purchase, but said the city is only required to seek bids when the purchase is $50,000 or more.”

Being legal is not the same as being right. What would be the downside to getting multiple quotes for a $30,000 expenditure of taxpayer money — other than making it harder to give the contract to a political ally ten days before the election?

 

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How Warren Works

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due-dateOn Wednesday this week Doug and Enzo announced a deal to buy four surveillance cameras, and related services, at a cost of $30,702.74. The cameras are to be placed in strategic locations around Warren to help prosecute or prevent illegal dumping. This is the culmination of a two year running request from Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, whose 6th ward has been particularly hard hit by the dumping of tires, contractor refuse, furniture, and other waste in certain locations.

The administration’s decision to finally make this purchase two years after the CDBG dollars were originally allocated has to make you wonder if politics might have entered into the decision.

Doug and Enzo’s decision to select VEC Inc. of Girard as the vendor, a company represented in the discussions by 4th Ward City Council candidate Jimmy Bluedorn (D), two weeks before his name is to appear on primary ballots, is brazen cronyism at its worst. Mr. Bluedorn is Doug and Enzo’s hand-picked candidate, and he was given an open floor at council caucus ten days before the election, where he explained the contract and also added that he would personally donate a camera to the city for one month. This donation was re-framed in a social media post by Mr. Bluedorn that same day as being “for the residents of the 4th Ward”, the same post in which he asked those residents for their vote.

Members of the council caucus, heard the announcement from Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa. I spoke to seven people who were in the room; three said that Enzo said no other vendors were considered; four said they could not recall one way or the other.

Either way, the members of council in attendence asked no questions about the contract; perhaps they were happy enough to finally get the cameras after a two year struggle.

As bad as the politics of this deal smells, the possibility that this was a “no bid” contract issue is more troubling. This has become so typical of the way Doug and Enzo roll when it comes to spending the city’s money. Lawyer Enzo may have found some legal justification which allowed them to spend over $30,000 of taxpayer money without getting competing bids.

But being legal doesn’t make it right.

There is at least one Warren company that sells these same products and services; they have employees here, who pay taxes in Warren, and they were not even given the opportunity to bid for the business. That is just wrong.

And how do we know that we got the best price on these products and services? According to VEC’s invoice, they are charging the city $4685 per camera. A quick Google search discovered the same camera model being offered at $2879, or 38.5% less than what the city is paying. It is possible that this is not an exact apples to apples comparison (there are some bolts and brackets involved), but the city has not offered competitive prices for public viewing.

I received no response to an email sent to Enzo and his administrative assistant early today, asking if there had been competing bids.

No bid contracts have become a favorite tool for Doug and Enzo; they’ve used them to select management for Packard Music Hall and WRAP, for example. Unfortunately, this appears to be another example of the lack of effort being made by them to spend taxpayer money wisely.

Several city employees have told me recently that since Lisa Mazzocci, who formerly monitored purchasing, retired recently, they are rarely required to get multiple prices before making a purchase, and there is little oversight from City Hall. “I could buy a helicopter and nobody in City Hall would notice,” said one department head.

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