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Time to reinvent our region

April 12, 2012
By JAMES PIRKO - Community Columnist ( , Tribune Chronicle |

Youngstown has been working to reinvent itself, which is not a quick or easy task, but is long overdue.

As the flagship of our region, the fate and fortune of every community in our region is tied to Youngstown. When companies are considering a move to this area, the most visible point on the map is our largest city. They may not know about Girard, Niles or even Warren, but they usually have heard of Youngstown, for better or worse.

Reputations, once earned, tend to endure long after the incidents that created them. Being known for crime, closed industries, unemployment, poverty, blight, failing schools and dysfunctional or corrupt government will motivate businesses to look elsewhere. Being recognized among the nation's leading regions for new industrial development, and as one of the best cities for entrepreneurs to open a business, will encourage more investment. Youngstown has claimed all of these distinctions at one time or another.

Youngstown has been reworking its two foundations - the city charter and the zoning redevelopment code with zoning district maps. This is a continuation of the Youngstown 2010 planning process that was started by Ex-Mayor Jay Williams, when he was the community development director.

Using a series of neighborhood public meetings, Youngstown 2010 brought unprecedented citizen involvement into planning the City's future, and produced some innovative ideas for rebuilding a broken and shrinking city, filled with vacant buildings where people once lived and worked.

Land reutilization was the primary focus of the Youngstown 2010 report published in 2005. Implementing this plan would require major changes, or complete replacement of the city's antiquated zoning regulations and maps. The last major zoning revision was in 1969, amending the original zoning from 1929. Lacking the necessary in-house resources, Youngstown received grant funding and hired the expertise of the nationally-recognized Clarion Associates to assist with this detailed task.

Youngstown Community Development Director Bill D'Avignon and his staff facilitated a series of public meetings with small group discussions. These meetings were well-attended and lively, bringing forth the insights and concerns of people who knew best what was happening in their neighborhoods.

This approach is being used to update Youngstown's City Charter, another task that has not been undertaken in decades, except for a few modifications. Youngstown is unique with its charter structure, customized for the needs of the community. Most cities and counties use the statutory ''cookie cutter'' organizational structures established by the Ohio Legislature. Charters allow the people of a city or county to create better ways to structure their local governments for better accountability and service to the public. Akron and Summit counties are often mentioned as success stories for city and county charters.

Youngstown's charter review committee has been impaneled, with one person appointed by each city council member, and three appointed by the mayor. They have accepted the challenge of completing a total overhaul of the city charter within the next few weeks, with the urgency characteristic of Mayor Chuck Sammarone's call for accomplishment and accountability. They have some major decisions that will set the direction of the Youngstown region for decades into the future. This proposed charter must ready for city council to present at public hearings and approve by summer, to be placed on the general election ballot this fall.

There are fundamental decisions to be made. Youngstown's City Council now has seven wards, with population ranging from 7,227 to 12,130, which probably would fail any constitutional challenge for proportional representation. There is discussion of redistricting with a reduction in the number of wards, and adding at-large council members elected by the entire city.

Other proposals include changing the president of council position and naming the mayor's chief of staff as a vice mayor to serve in the mayor's absence. Reorganization and consolidation of departments is being discussed to save expenses and provide more efficient service for residents and businesses.

What Youngstown is doing should inspire our region to reinvent itself.

Pirko is a Weathersfield resident.



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