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Park tree removal shows disrespect for city, residents

Warren officials should be ashamed of their recent unilateral decision to wipe out about 20 trees in Perkins Park in order to make way for, of all things, construction of a new bocce court and setup of the beer tent at this year’s Italian-American Heritage Festival.

The popular four-day festival is expected to relocate this summer from Warren’s Courthouse Square to Perkins Park.

The decision to cut down the trees was made by Mayor Doug Franklin’s administration, including then-outgoing safety service director Enzo Cantalamessa, who is a member of the Italian-American Heritage Festival committee. In recent days, Cantalamessa left his post as safety service director to begin serving in his newly elected seat as Warren law director.

In recent weeks, about 18 to 20 trees were removed from behind the Women’s Park, between the Kinsman House and the Perkins House, which is where city hall is housed on Mahoning Avenue.

The city administration did not consult any of the community groups that routinely help maintain area historical spaces, triggering the loud and warranted outcry from residents and members of historical and civic groups. Also, no prior public discussion of the planned project took place; altering the landscape in the historical area where Warren’s earliest families built the Perkins and Kinsman houses; and using taxpayer-funded city manpower and equipment to prepare the area and construct the new bocce court.

That’s appalling and wrong.

The angry response that has been reported in this newspaper and that has reverberated in recent days throughout the city and on social media is well justified for many reasons.

First, we are extremely troubled by the fact that Cantalamessa played a large role in the decision — a clear conflict of interest, as he is a member of the festival committee that stands to benefit the most from this decision.

Second, we question whether anyone sought price quotes or conducted any research at all on the estimated cost of the work or value of the trees being removed.

Officials last week acknowledged that the city paid $3,450 to Gaumer Landscape Inc. of Warren to cut down the trees that were too big for city workers to handle. While we understand that figure may fall below the dollar amount requiring competitive bidding under Ohio law, most business people or local property owners could tell you that the cost of tree removal often varies greatly. Common sense would lead most of us to at least seek quotes and bids for the work.

Unfortunately, government often doesn’t act in the logical sense when it comes to decision-making and spending public money.

Finally, and perhaps foremost, we are incensed that this city administration would be so bold as to treat a public park as if it were the administration’s own personal property to do with it what it pleased.

This act shows a blatant disrespect for any taxpayer, constituent or historical committee volunteer who has devoted time or effort to keeping Warren beautiful and preserving its history.

We would have expected Franklin, who is beginning his third term in office, to have more regard for the city and constituents he serves. And we hope this act is not an indication of how Cantalamessa will behave in his new elected role where he will advise city leaders on legal and ethical issues involving Warren.

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