4 seek at-large seats in Niles

NILES — Four people, including two incumbents and the city’s former safety service director, are seeking three at-large seats on city council Nov. 7.

Incumbent Democratic Councilmen Ryan McNaughton and Michael Lastic are after re-election, while Democrat Barry Profato and nonparty candidate and former Safety Service Director James DePasquale Jr. also are on the ballot.

DePasquale, 63, who retired from the city of Niles engineering and parks department in 2003 and later served as safety service director — a position from which he was terminated by Mayor Thomas Scarnecchia — said his priorities are securing grants, improving the downtown area and improving relationships among city employees, unions and residents.

This is DePasquale’s first time seeking elected office, but while working for the city for more than three decades, he said he completed more $20 million in federal, state and city funded construction projects. Infrastructure needs to be a priority, he said.

“I have an excellent knowledge of the infrastructure of the city,” he said.

DePasquale said he was terminated from the management position over disagreements with Scarnecchia. But DePasquale said he doesn’t hold a grudge and as a councilman, he would work to forge relationships with everyone.

“In order to make Niles great again, you have to work together,” he said.

Lastic, 74, who is retired from Niles City Schools and who has served on city council since 1999, first as 2nd Ward councilman and then at-large, said his priorities are working to keep the city financially solvent, improving storm and sewage systems, and attracting business and industry to the city.

Lastic said although Niles will likely get out of fiscal emergency within a year-and-a-half, now is not the time to stray from the financial course that’s been put in place with the help of the state. Lastic said Auditor Giovanne Merlo is doing a great job and city council has provided oversight that’s needed.

“The key is to stay on course and not divert,” he said. “I will not support anything that’s going to jeopardize us leaving the train track and getting off course. I want to get off this fiscal plan the state set up, but even once we’re there, stay on track and question everything.”

Lastic said Niles needs to continue working to attract and retain business, and it needs to reach out more to people like U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, and Trumbull County commissioners for help with economic development.

“We have the greatest resources, we just don’t take advantage of it,” he said.

McNaughton, 43, associate director of advancement for Kent State University, said his top priorities are continuation of Niles’ fiscal recovery, ensuring safety departments are properly staffed and equipped and addressing aging infrastructure.

McNaughton said Niles financial situation didn’t happen overnight and there isn’t a quick fix solution. However, he said barring any unforeseen surprises, it appears Niles is moving forward financially and as a councilman he’d like to continue overseeing that process.

“I’d like to think we are turning the corner,” said McNaughton, first elected in 2015. “The state likes what we are doing, funds are all positive, contracts are all signed with safety forces and we pushed the administration for a rainy day fund just to spend better, and really that was our charge as council — spend better.”

McNaughton said the city has been able to implement a street program, replace police cars and set money aside to buy fire trucks without layoffs. He said there is still a huge need for infrastructure improvement, something city council and the administration should focus on while continuing to be fiscally cautious.

“There are only a couple things local governments should really have their hand in, safety and infrastructure,” he said. “Those are the main tenets of local government.”

Profato, 71, who is retired, but formerly worked in sales, at Niles Municipal Court and as a National Football League drug tester, said his top priorities are getting Niles out of fiscal emergency, working as a team to achieve financial stability and putting together an economic development program.

Profato, who previously served two terms as an at-large councilman, one term as a ward councilman and has lost three bids for mayor, said with council President Robert Marino and at-large Councilman Steve Papalas, D-at large, stepping down, the city needs someone with the ability to assume a leadership position.

“The only senior legislator is Mr. Lastic and the rest are all one-termers,” he said. “The precarious situation we are in now is probably the most inexperienced administration and legislators we’ve ever had in Niles. They are all trying to bring stability, and I give them credit, but experience is needed now more than ever.”

Profato said legislators need to continue scrutinizing all legislation coming across the table, provide three readings in order to dissect new ordinances and push for more economic development.

“Development is out there and we need to go after it,” he said. “This is a time we either make it or we don’t.”