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Warren leaders must make hard choices

It’s a tale of two cities.

Within about only a week after cost-cutting help was requested, more than 80 Youngstown city workers have been laid off — most voluntarily furloughed.

Yet, in Warren, efforts to convince the city’s largest union to accept voluntary layoffs fell flat. One person volunteered, and city officials decided to drop the plan.

As of last week, in Youngstown, including court workers and some changes at the executive-branch level, 67 full-time city workers and 22 part-timers were furloughed to help save money for Youngstown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, not all the furloughs were voluntary — 15 non-union, full-time workers were forced furloughs — but the rest had stepped up on their own.

We are amazed at the stark differences in the attitudes of both leadership and workers in the two cities located only about 15 miles apart.

In Warren, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 74 on April 14 were offered an opportunity to accept voluntary layoffs. The union has approximately 100 employees in the city’s water pollution control, community development and water departments, as well as administrative staff in the police and fire departments. Pay in the union ranges from $15.80 to $21.99 per hour, depending on position and department. After only one person volunteered for a furlough, the plan was scrapped.

It appears that Warren workers must have a strong belief that they have nothing to fear — despite projections from Warren Auditor Vince Flask that Warren could have losses of up to 20 percent of the city’s anticipated budget for this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. That loss could reach $4.5 million, Flask said.

Certainly, job security is good for everyone and good for morale, but we wonder whether Warren workers have reached a comfort level that is simply too high for the good of the city and of the taxpayers.

Most effective leaders would tell you that subordinates take their direction and attitude from their leadership. Could that be the problem in Warren?

Weeks have gone by during this pandemic that has left more than 1 million Ohioans out of work — so far, none are Warren workers who are being paid by tax dollars from many now-unemployed residents facing their own grim financial questions.

As of today, still no personnel cuts have been made in Warren. Some city workers have been permitted by Warren’s administration to stay home, alternating shifts or remaining “on call,” while collecting their full compensation. That’s a pretty good gig that few would opt to give up.

And in the meantime, topic of discussions among members of Warren City Council during recent meetings have focused more on issues like how to regulate a new Amazon credit card and whether to begin operating a city-run impound lot than it has on where to cut costs, particularly in areas of personnel and operations.

Youngstown city workers, on the other hand, realize that city was falling into dire financial straits, triggered in large part by revenue loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. There, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown sent a strong message to his workers about the need and an alternative that workers should expect forced layoffs if too few workers stepped up voluntarily.

It’s time now for Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert to make difficult decisions in cost cutting. We suspect those cuts could involve furlough of nonessential workers.

These are difficult times, and city leaders must realize they have been elected to represent their constituents, not just the workers whom they employ.

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