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Weathersfield’s decision sounds like sour grapes

The recent decision by Weathersfield Township trustees to pull the plug on an economic development contract the township has held for years with the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber seems counterproductive for a few reasons.

Trustees voted 3-0 earlier this month to end their contractual relationship with the chamber on the heels of the chamber’s decision to hire former Niles City Councilman Ryan McNaughton as vice president of governmental affairs. McNaughton, who held his seat on council since 2016, resigned that post when he accepted the chamber job, citing a conflict of interest.

Weathersfield and Niles have been in great disaccord since Niles began pushing for annexation of property in surrounding townships, including Weathersfield.

We understand the frustration of Weathersfield officials and residents with these annexation attempts. To be sure, we have used this space to strongly oppose those efforts. But to torpedo the beneficial working relationship that has blossomed between the township and the chamber because of a chamber personnel decision appears to be overkill.

Trustees recently had voted to renew their contract with the chamber for 2021 for a cost of $7,500. At the time, trustees approved the measure, stating, “The Trustees believe that this investment in our community will assist with our advocacy at the Statehouse regarding important local government issues.”

Indeed, the relationship that has existed for many years has been successful, and included things like the chamber’s assistance in securing about $750,000 in various funds for the township and other economic development efforts.

Let’s be clear. Whether or not one agrees with Niles’ attempts at annexation, it’s apparent that, as an elected Niles official, McNaughton was representing the interest of his constituency when he jumped on board with the annexation attempts.

Now that he is working with the chamber, it stands to reason that he will be representing the position and interests of that agency — which, in fact, has remained neutral without taking a position on Niles’ annexation attempts.

Still, trustees argued that given McNaughton’s position on annexation, the hire could be damaging for Weathersfield. And although all three trustees noted that their relationship with the chamber has been strong, Trustees Steve Gerberry and Rich Harkins seemed unable to move past the chamber’s decision to hire McNaughton, and Harkins even said he would only be able to reconsider the decision if the chamber would “reconsider their employment considerations.”

That sounds a lot like sour grapes.

Calling the decision “unacceptable,” Harkins even noted that he had called chamber officials to express his displeasure on the hiring.

Unfortunately, at the end of the discussion, township trustees voted unanimously to withdraw Weathersfield’s contract with the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

What’s perhaps even more bothersome in this vote is the decision by Trustee Marvin McBride to vote with his fellow trustees to end the chamber contract, even though he clearly expressed reservations about the move.

McBride had spoken logically on the topic during the trustees’ meeting, urging the board to look to the future and carefully consider how the decision might affect the township when they are gone. McBride said when dealing with an organization as powerful as the chamber, working with them is more beneficial than working against them.

McBride suggested the township stay with the chamber for the remainder of the contract and then evaluate if it is worthwhile to continue the partnership. He also said he would have liked the trustees to wait for a vote, rather than cast it now.

“This is the first time I’ve ever come out against something that any one of the trustees has ever wanted. I’m looking into the future, not today,” McBride said.

Despite all these reasonable comments, McBride still voted in favor of canceling the contract. Why? Because he thought it was more important to stand united.

“If the trustees aren’t together, then our community doesn’t get what they voted for,” McBride said.

We disagree. Debate, discourse and, yes, disagreement all can be done respectfully. Frankly, that’s just part of doing the business that each official was elected to do.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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