Warren council hopefuls state case

WARREN – The Southwest Neighborhood Association’s candidate forum Thursday night was notable as much for who didn’t show up as it was for the topics discussed.

A day after relatives of teenagers killed in a single-vehicle accident in March attempted to confront Bob Dean at a council meeting about a bank account set up for the victims, the council president did not show up.

Attending briefly was Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, who said she would not stay because of an adversarial relationship between the organizers of the event and herself.

Saffold later explained she did not think it was appropriate to participate because her opponent is related to Rhonda Bennett, a member of the Southwest Neighborhood Association.

Present at the forum were Erica Royster, who is seeking to replace Saffold in the 6th Ward; Felicia Davis and Larry Larson, both seeking to replace outgoing First Ward Councilman Fiore Dippolito, and Jim Graham, who is running against Dean.

All the candidates are Democrats. There are no Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in the May 7 primary.

Moderator James Walker said all of the candidates were invited to the A. Philip Randolph Institute co-sponsored event.

Responding to a question about what they would do about Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp. and Sunshine of Trumbull County Inc., Graham said the executive director of the two organizations, Anthony Iannucci Jr., should be replaced.

“He can’t do four different jobs,” Graham said.

Sunshine – a private, nonprofit organization that provides low- to moderate-income housing to area residents – has been in the spotlight recently due to more than $180,000 in property taxes and fees it owes to the county.

Davis said there needs to be more transparency in the organizations. While Royster said there needs to be checks and balances to make sure the organization is being operated correctly.

“No organization should be able do what it wants,” she said.

Also discussed was what the city should do about the Old Avalon Golf course, which is owed more than $300,000 in on its lease and needs about $100,000 in improvements.

Graham said the city should keep the municipal course, because he has been told its value will increase over the next year.

Larson, however, said the city should sell it.

“I understand it will take a half-million dollars to bring to get it back to condition where it can be a playable course,” he said. “We (the city) do not have a half-million dollars.”

The administration has asked council for the authority to sell the course.

Questioned why voters should elect him to council, Larson said he would do many of the things he already is doing.

“I’m the guy who is in the trenches,” he said. “I go out and patrol neighborhoods, help some of our older residents clean up their yards, and I serve on the Senior Services Committee.”

Davis said she is the best candidate because of her education and business experience.

“We need more businesses,” she said. “We can complain about blight and road repairs. The city has resources. It has water and has a sewer system that can be marketed. We need to work together as a team.”

It wasn’t until near the end of the forum that Dean’s absence was mentioned – specifically his not being there to respond to questions about the handling of money raised for the funerals of the six teens killed in the March 10 accident.

Initially Walker was not going to read a question about Dean’s relationship with the teens’ families but Graham suggested it was Dean’s choice not to show up.

So, when asked what he would have done if he had made a mistake, Graham said he would have admitted his mistake and apologized to the families personally.

Dean did not respond to telephone messages left for him by a Tribune Chronicle reporter Thursday night. He has said, however, that everything he did to establish the account was transparent. He also has said a six-member pastoral group decided how the payments were disbursed.