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Youngstown Council, Mayor Debate Racial Bias, Favoritism - The Vindicator

City council members and the mayor engaged in a sometimes heated debate about a grass-cutting and property-cleanup program that included accusations of racial bias and preferential treatment to certain wards.

During Wednesday’s council finance committee meeting, Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, who is black, accused the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. of “giving the shaft to certain people all along, and I don’t want to be shafted again.”

The agency would be paid $102,168 a year to supervise and manage the program.

Mayor John A. McNally, who is white, said, “We have to put to bed this notion that YNDC is treating certain wards, certain areas of the city, unfairly.”

He added: “It gets to other issues about race. We all talk about it,” but “YNDC has helped all wards. This [program] will help every side of town.”

Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, who is black, told McNally: “We can’t act like race isn’t an issue when it’s an issue,” and “YNDC has a history with some of the council people. It’s up to them to change it, not you. That’s the way we feel.”

Tarpley said when she goes to YNDC, “I’m the only African-American in the room.”

At one point in the meeting, McNally softly said that “some of council’s concerns are based on race.”

After the council meeting, he said, “I do have a concern, particularly as it related to YNDC, that the complaints that are directed to them are often based on YNDC ignoring certain wards of the city.” He’s not seen that, he said.

“I’m getting a little frustrated about that line of argument,” McNally said. “We need to put the issue to bed. The issues of race are things we deal with. It’s an ever-present issue. It’s always out there, but it’s particularly out there with YNDC” and it’s not true.

Among its responsibilities, YNDC serves as the city’s planner. McNally said the organization works throughout the city regardless of location and race.

Reached late Wednesday by The Vindicator, Ian J. Beniston, YNDC executive director, said, “I think [the accusations] are just totally false and not correct. Our staff, board and clients are representative of the city. Resources are equitably divided by wards.”

There wasn’t enough support for a vote from council Wednesday to approve the administration’s proposal to hire YNDC to supervise and manage about 20 low-income people, between age 18 and 24, to cut grass, clean debris and illegal dumping sites, do light landscaping and board-up vacant structures.

At McNally’s request, council will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday to further discuss the contract, then meet later next week for a vote on the proposal.

The proposal includes the city purchasing about $175,000 in equipment, including pickup trucks, lawn mowers and weed whackers, for those hired for this work through the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association, which will pay the workers with federal money.

Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, who is white, said this program will save the city money over time as there is a significant savings in using this plan over hiring private contractors.

“We’re throwing this out for personal prejudice [because some] had a bad experience with an organization,” he said.

Both Ray and Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, who is white, said they’ve had great experiences with YNDC, and are confident the agency would do a much better job than private companies hired by the city to mow grass.

Tarpley insisted Ray has said “at certain times he has more people [who] pay more taxes in” his ward, and thus gets more attention.

Ray repeatedly said, “I’ve never said that.”

It resulted in the two shouting at each other with Tarpley insisting Ray has made the comment a number of times, including to The Vindicator, and Ray strongly denying it and challenging Tarpley to “show me that,” adding, “You’re ridiculous.”

When asked after the meeting about YNDC, Councilman Nate Pinkard, D-3rd, who is black, said he’s had a few discussions with agency officials about “getting my fair share. But they do good work.”

In response to a question about race concerns with the agency, Pinkard said, “I’m not a race-card player. I don’t see any race issues.”

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