Mayor accused of bypassing manager

Mayor Bryan Blakeman was accused this week of “circumventing” the city manager when a representative from the governor’s office contacted him requesting a meet-and-greet in the city last month.

Councilman Dick Simpson said Blakeman should have notified Lance Willard ahead of time, although Blakeman said he did and Willard said he was notified, but not in enough time.

Willard said he did not know of the meet and greet until two business days before it was scheduled to take place. He said he was notified on Friday while Blakeman said they had talked about it more than a week before it was scheduled.

Gov. John Kasich’s local representative, Tim Ross, was in the city on April 21. Blakeman was contacted by phone and email by a member of the Ohio Development Services Agency, who coordinated the meet-and-greet with Blakeman.

Blakeman said he copied Willard on all the correspondences and invited him to also meet with Ross that day. Willard said he was unable to participate because he was not notified in enough time and couldn’t make room in his busy schedule.

Simpson said Blakeman was “circumventing” the city manager, indicating he was acting outside of his authority as mayor.

Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell also warned Blakeman that Willard must be notified.

“The manager is the CEO of the town. He needs appropriate notice of when a visitor is coming. If he is given the opportunity to do that, that is fine,” he said.

Blakeman again said he had spoken with Willard about the matter “three times,” but Willard did not respond to that statement, continuing to state he was not notified promptly.

Blasdell said it appeared to have been a misunderstanding, and that in the future, Willard should be notified.

Blakeman also said he did not attempt to conduct any city business and did not request anything from the governor’s office, although he did say Ross advised him of some grant opportunities for the city.

“He just wanted to see city hall and what we do here in Columbiana. I took him down to the water plant and … showed him what we could really use from Columbus. I received a list from him a couple of days ago” showing what could be future grant funding prospects, he said.

After the meeting Blakeman provided copies of emails to the newspaper that he sent to Willard, showing an email was sent from him to Willard on Wednesday, April 16.

The mayor said in the email, “Would you be available at all on April 21st to meet with John Kasich’s area representative? I met him last week and he wanted to meet me at city hall. Thought it may be a good way to introduce you also, and we could discuss opportunities for funding with the state.”

The email was time-stamped for 5:16 p.m.

Willard did respond to the email the following day advising Blakeman he would not be available that day.

Blakeman also provided other emails and voicemail records showing he kept Willard apprised of other city matters in which he was contacted directly, including one instance in which the executive director of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport requested a financial contribution from the city.

According to that email, the airport is in negotiations with United Airlines for acquiring daily flights to anywhere in the United States or world through Chicago, and is requesting money to close the gap on a shortfall with the United Airlines revenue, to the tune of about $500,000.

The Mahoning County Commissioners were also asked to contribute, according to the email.

In his response, Blakeman referred the man to Willard and wrote, “Under our Charter form of government, the city manager makes the day to day decisions on these matters with the blessing of council.”

Blakeman provided another email, in which airport executive director Dan Dickten continued to request assistance, and his response again was to contact Willard.

“Lance Willard is who you will need to discuss this issue with. If he felt it was necessary to proceed then he would bring it to council for their thoughts. I am not involved too much in the legislative body unless a tie were to be involved. At this point, this is out of my jurisdiction,” Blakeman wrote.

The response was dated April 11.

Blakeman told the newspaper on Wednesday, “What was stated last night by Dick Simpson was blatantly false. I am receiving information almost daily I am properly relaying and working through the city manager, not going around anyone. My intention is to help the city in my capacity as mayor while respecting the boundaries of our charter and separation of powers.”