Putting the people last

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Randy Smith letterBuilding and maintain our roads and sewer systems are among the most important tasks of the The County Engineers. Most people would agree that good planning is an essential component of doing that job well, so good relations between the Engineers and the Planning Commission would seem to be critical to providing the best service possible to the citizens of Trumbull County.

Randy Smith, the County Engineer, proudly lists his degrees after his signature. He’s worked for the County long enough to be drawing his pension plus his salary. So given his education and experience, one could reasonably expect someone like him to bring enough foresight and maturity to his work to find a way to make this relationship work.

Instead, take a look at the letter he wrote to the County Commissioners, pouting and bullying his way to ending any relationship between good planning and execution. We the people of Trumbull County are the losers in this petty, vindictive tantrum Smith is in the middle of throwing, and which lead to yesterday’s Tribune article (see yesterday’s WE post for the full transcript.)

We will follow up with Mr. William Danso in the Prosecutor’s office to get his response.

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What is wrong with this guy?

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randy-smithIt seems like every time you read about Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith, one of his employees is suing him for something, or he is being investigated for ethics violations, or he’s double-dipping. Today was a change of pace. It seems Smith informed the Trumbull County Commissioners this week that he will no longer provide professional services to members of the TC Planning Commission — because they ask too many questions. Apparently Randy doesn’t realize that the Planning Commission and his department are both parts of the County government, and that by withholding his help he is actually financially penalizing the citizens of Trumbull County and not the employees of the Planning Commission.

One rarely sees behavior this blatantly immature after the 8th grade. Smith’s self-serving, arrogance and vindictiveness make one wonder if he got his education in management and human relations from Trump University. He also sets the bar pretty high for passive-aggressiveness. According to Renee Fox’s excellent article in today’s Tribune, Smith never contacted the Planning Commission’s Executive Director Trish Nuskievicz prior to writing to the Commissioners. Rather, when she called him, he had one of his people send her an email saying “all future communications between them shall be in written form.”

And we’re paying this guy for this sort of nonsense. You may be asking yourself why the Commissioners don’t step in and stop his juvenile, playground war games, but thanks to the gift of statutory government left to us by our forefathers, the Engineer is independently elected and can do pretty much whatever he feels like doing.

The full Tribune article from this morning is reprinted below with their permission:

Engineer: No services to planners

Executive director shocked by decision

“We’ve always had a good relationship with representatives from the Engineer’s Office in the past. We’ve worked well together on various projects. It’s news to me,” said Trish Nuskievicz, executive director of the Trumbull County Planning Commission.

Smith notified Trumbull County commissioners Tuesday that he is seeking a legal opinion from the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office to see if his employees are allowed to stop providing services to the commission.

Nuskievicz said she and Smith never spoke or discussed issues or concerns Smith had with her office before asking for an opinion. When she called to speak with Smith after learning of the letter from the Tribune Chronicle, his office sent an email reply in response to her message.

“Based upon recent circumstances, all future communication between the planning commission and this office shall be in written form,” the email states.

Communication between the various county departments isn’t only a professional courtesy, but crucial to daily operations in the county, Nuskievicz said.

“So I don’t know why he has never reached out to me to discuss whatever issues he has had,”Nuskievicz said.

And, Nuskievicz said, Smith’s office isn’t providing its services to the planning commission, but to the county as a whole.

“We are all on the same team. If there is a responsibility of the planning commission, I fulfill it. If it is the responsibility of the engineer’s office, they provide those services. These are all county initiatives that require work from both of our offices,” Nuskievicz said.

Smith said he believes the Ohio Revised Code will allow him to end the services for the commission if providing them takes up too many resources and interferes with regular duties.

Smith said three issues are creating a burdensome relationship between the commission and his office — that his employees have to spend too much time educating commission employees on the information it is providing to them, that the two clashed heads over the interpretation of regulations for survey markers in a road for a new development, and that it took longer than it should have to get information from the commission Smith needed in a lawsuit.

Nuskievicz said an attorney representing Smith sent her a letter June 7 requesting information related to a lawsuit. In her response dated June 8, Nuskievicz attached the requested information and stated, “I would like to make note that this is the first public records request received that specifies documents being requested, so I had my secretary scan the majority of the file and have attached scans of those documents. There are some larger drawings and photos in the file, which I believe may have been taken by the county engineer’s office, if needed. The file here at the planning commission has always been open and available for review by the county engineer’s office and anyone else for that matter. We are in frequent communication with the engineer’s office, so I am not sure why they didn’t just come over and copy whatever information they need instead of involving outside counsel.”

The engineer’s office was seeking information about a performance bond issued in 2008 to the Sudheendra Family Limited Partnership for work done on Bennington Ridge in Howland.

The planning commission is never a bondholder, wasn’t a part of the lawsuit and did not inspect the projects, Nuskievicz stated in an email.

But, she had an employee scan everything from the file that would fit, Nuskievicz said.

“We are an open book, they or anyone else can come down and ask for information and we will accommodate them. Once they specified what they wanted, I responded immediately,”Nuskievicz said.

Smith’s other complaint — when his employees provide a service essential to a planning commission project it takes them too long to explain things to commission employees — is taking too much time away from his employees, who have an increased work load lately, he said.

“When we have time to do stuff we do. But everything is problematic with them and it is taking more time and energy than we have,” Smith said. “They had a very professional surveyor and now they don’t have one on staff. It requires more time from our offices to educate them about the information that we are giving them. And the effort seems unproductive.”

Nuskievicz said she is doing more with less and has three positions that need to be filled, but defended the quality of the employees she has on staff.

Nuskievicz said Smith’s third issue — a disagreement earlier this year about the interpretation of subregulations regarding the placement of survey markers — was a miscommunication that could have been resolved more quickly if there had been more communication between the offices.

“There is nothing that can’t be worked out between two county departments for the betterment of Trumbull County, but you actually have to pick up the phone,” Nuskievicz said.

Smith said he does not know if his office could charge the planning commission for its work — which includes plat reviews, field inspections and providing information on anything involving drainage and roads.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said if Smith receives an opinion stating he doesn’t have to continue providing services, the commissioners won’t be able to stop him because Smith is an elected official.

The county would have to pay for all of the surveying and engineering issues the commission deals with — at a time when the commissioners are searching for ways to deal projected budget difficulties, Cantalamessa said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

 

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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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