“Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.”
That little admonition came courtesy of Vindicator politics writer David Skolnick in his most recent weekly column. He was specifically addressing the stampeding herd of 23 candidates who have filed to pursue seven Youngstown City Council seats via the May 5th Democratic primary election.
More accurately, Skolnick was looking at the 19 – of whom I am one – who have not served on council before and ostensibly asking, “You sure you wanna step into this mess? This city has issues!”
The “mess” includes profound problems like the Cafaro Company heading for Niles with its 200 employees and leaving behind significant losses in wage and profit tax revenue. There’s the impact of more lost jobs as a result of the potential closure of the local U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution center in July. Vallourec is going through a downturn in the wake of slumping gas and oil markets. Several areas of the city are backsliding into a food desert with the recent closure of three Bottom Dollar grocery stores. And then there are always the persistent public safety, infrastructure and blight abatement issues.
That’s quite a sobering list of ills – and it’s just the top of the list. There are more. Many more.
Skolnick concludes that “a well-informed council is vital” in safely navigating this cold, unforgiving sea of treacherous financial icebergs and that dealing with this “daunting task” will ultimately be “asking a lot of new council members.”
I have to agree with him that good council members are a crucial component of responsible and effective government and city management. Which is precisely the reason I entered the race in the 7th Ward.
With my eyes wide open.
Perhaps now more than at any prior time in our city’s recent history, the job of representing one of the city’s seven wards is not for beginners. You may ask, are you not a “beginner,” Mr. Travers? Not hardly, and the truth to my answer is revealed when you consider three areas: a look back at some past practices of councils, the requirements of being a member of that elected body, and the deep width and breadth of my own experiences and qualifications for the job.
First, one’s election to and service on city council is not a guarantee in any way, shape or form of sound decision-making. A few less-than-stellar moments by city council within the last dozen years include:
- We don’t need no stinking sunshine. In the summer of 2013 when Cardinal Mooney High School was talking about relocation to the suburbs, six out of the seven council members – a clear quorum requiring a public meeting – met privately in a prearranged meeting with Mooney officials in violation of the state’s “Sunshine Laws” to discuss the proposed move. Lesson: At least one member in attendance should have been cognizant of that and said, “Um, I don’t think we should be meeting like this.”
- We’re in charge now! In early 2002 when the Covelli Centre was in its planning stages, council systematically stonewalled a select panel of professionals, business persons and community leaders organized to manage the development of the then-labeled “convocation center.” The arena board threw up its collective hands in frustration and disgust and voted to dissolve in the wake of council’s lack of cooperation. Council’s takeover of the project ultimately led to a facility management agreement with Global Entertainment of Tempe, AZ, that promised a first year operating profit of over $600 thousand dollars and instead delivered a loss between $80 thousand and $120 thousand dollars putting the city further behind in its debt service on the center. Lesson: A good council knows when not to overstep its bounds and when to rely on and encourage the participation of skilled and knowledgeable citizens.
- Let’s just do the four easiest ones. In 2012, council demonstrated a clear lack of political will to deal with 17 proposed charter amendments. They voted to send just four to the ballot, the first two being no-brainers on a conflict-of-interest policy and compliance with daylight saving time. Number three was the measure to eliminate the mayor’s term limits. The fourth, an amendment on redistricting after every U.S. Census., was approved only after weakening the Charter Review Commission’s proposal by inserting a vague condition of “reasonable population change.” Lesson: A big part of being on council is a willingness to drill down and tackle important issues and not ignore them, especially when an earnest group of citizens like the Charter Review Commission has devoted months of personal time to fully examine the city’s charter and make sound recommendations.
If as they say in securities trading that past performance does not indicate future success, then perhaps we can breathe a sigh of relief that council’s past foibles are not a guarantee of future lapses of judgment. Despite the characterization of the current council by one of its members (who’s not running due to term limits) as “probably one of the most educated councils we’ve had” – a line that unfortunately became a punchline instead of a compliment – this penchant for miscues can be fixed this year with the right people.
Meaningful progress in the city will come about if its legislative branch of government has members capable of clear, unbiased, and critical thinking. Their individual toolboxes must also include demonstrated and successful experience in sound decision-making and leadership. They must be able to coherently articulate a position. And if a member of council is going to more than just competently represent their district, they should have already invested significant time “on the ground” in their ward, the kind of time and experience that provides an invaluable recognition of issues and produces an equally valuable inspiration for solutions.
My own portfolio contains, among many things, business skills such as budget development and profit-and-loss management; leadership roles in city-wide neighborhood blight abatement and the establishment of the Mahoning County Land Bank; sixteen years in the trenches with residents, neighborhood groups, and the 7th Ward Citizens Coalition; and an unyielding commitment to see quality of life improvement in every facet and corner of our city.
In addition, I am no stranger to other partners in government who can assist us in creating a better city: from the City’s department heads to the mayor, from the Ohio Statehouse to Capitol Hill, from federal and state agencies to foundations and nonprofits, I have built and fostered many valuable relationships in the last decade that can help me help our city. I can hit the track running like no other 7th Ward candidate if you send me to city council.
For the whole magilla on my portfolio, you can click right here and read my profile on LinkedIn.
There is no wishful thinking here, no ego, no misguided notion of public service based on a whimsical dream. I have a firm recognition that the job of a council member is often difficult and constantly under public scrutiny. And I can plainly see that the problems of our city are indeed challenging.
They are not insurmountable, though. “Daunting task” as Mr. Skolnick says? Sure.
But I’m on the path to city council with my eyes wide open.