GERARD – Two city stalwarts are facing off in the Democratic primary for mayor.
Nine-year city treasurer and seven-year school board member Mark Zubbo is challenging current mayor James Melfi who is 22.
Zuppo said he’s had new and interesting ideas for years – and he’s ready to share them.
However, Melfi said he wanted to build on the successes he had. He said he’s been through a lot with the city over the years, including financial emergencies, property acquisitions and regionalization, and said a new face in the mayor’s office wouldn’t be able to compete with his experience and dedication.
Melfi, 65, has been mayor since 2000 and was city treasurer for 10 years before that. He graduated from Youngstown State University with a BA in Economics in 1980.
As the mayor of a small town, Melfi admitted he can come under a lot of scrutiny, but he thinks it’s because he’s closer to the people he serves.
“I was a paper boy. As a paper boy, you interact with people every day, and I’ve never lost that.” My file said. “Love for it, even after all those years – I might come home disappointed some evenings – but it’s the daily challenge, and trying to make Gerrard better is what keeps it fresh for me.”
Melfi said his priorities, if re-elected, would be to help improve downtown, industry, improve neighborhoods and protect the city’s budget surplus.
To improve the city’s downtown, Melfi said it was important for the city to purchase the Wellman Theater, located on West Liberty Street, and to renovate it. This will help bring people to Girard, he said, and will go a long way in encouraging other businesses to move downtown.
“There is always a drive to make downtown better,” My file said.
“I know it’s election time, so I know there are a lot of things that can’t be accomplished. The only thing that can’t be achieved is 1965. There aren’t three drugstores there. There aren’t two florists. There aren’t two shoemakers. It’s hard.” Very today to be a small businessman.
Melfi pointed to the Ohio Leatherworks website, which said he wouldn’t have received a remedial grant if the city hadn’t bought him. He said that a private businessman could not obtain a grant to clean the property.
Melfi said the same is true of the Wellman Theatre. He admitted that the public-private partnership looks good, but said that a lot of work will have to be done for this building before it can turn a profit. While this may not have been a smart business decision, Melfi said it is smart for the city, which would be able to obtain grants, similar to what it got from the Leatherworks estate.
Specifically, he said the city is prepared for this “pounce on” Appalachian Regional Commission Community Scholarship. My file said this scholarship would be “Leader” It will launch several other investments in downtown Girard and the Mahoning River Corridor.
Girard’s board is expected to vote on Monday to grant final approval for the purchase. He was delayed two weeks ago pending an electrical and plumbing check. The city plans to spend $72,900 to purchase the 1930s building. Melfi said at that meeting that the architects gave him an estimate of $42,000 for the cost of the renovation.
“Will it be hard? Will it be painful? Will it be a burden to me? Absolutely.” My file said. “It will be a daily burden like building a house or remodeling a house, on a slightly larger scale. It will be a burden, but the results will make it worth it. The results can shift around that block from downtown.”
Zobo said he didn’t think buying the theater was the right move. It doesn’t compare to the Robbins Theater in Warren in terms of size, which means it won’t have a huge return on investment, he said.
“Don’t buy a property and then find out how much it will cost to renovate. I think you’re doing your due diligence,” Zobo said.
Melfi criticized Zobo for not attending most city council meetings. Zuppo said no one had brought this up until recently.
“I don’t think any elected official should miss council meetings,” My file said.
Zobo said he told the mayor’s office staff to give residents his cellphone number for questions. He said he had no problem giving up his cell because as a public servant, he should be as accessible to the public as possible.
“I take every call,” Zobo said. I’ve had calls from people I know calling me to complain. I helped someone with their taxes a few years ago that were against me. I don’t care who you are.”
Melfi said Zobo does not attend 85 percent of council meetings. Zobo said he attends board meetings and finance committee meetings when he can, but noted that the revised Ohio Code does not require it. Zobo said he was never asked at a council meeting in the nine years and four months he was treasurer.
Zuppo said he has other things to get involved with, so he can’t always attend meetings. If elected, Zuppo said he would be at every city council meeting.
Zuppo, 66, has been city treasurer since 2014 and has been on the school board, where he chairs, since 2016. He graduated from Girard High School in 1975.
If he wins the primary, he says he will step down as treasurer and chairman of the school board. If he loses, he can run again for the board of directors in November.
“A lot of great people say they think big. Well, more often than not, I think we think small. I believe in planning for the future. We haven’t done the people of this city justice in planning. I think we need plans for everything we do, and I don’t see those plans,” Zobo said.
He was a city councilman in the 1990s, he said, and was elected to a fifth term, but never served because Melfi, who was mayor at the time, asked Zobo to be a part-time director of recreation. Zobo said that entertaining and working with children have always been one of his passions.
For this reason, one of his main priorities is developing the Girard Lakes property.
“I helped lead the Lakes purchase in the ’90s when I was on the council. It’s a diamond waiting to be polished,” she said. Zobo said.
When he was Recreation Director, he said he opened a fishing program and fishing competitions on the lakes. He was manager for only one year, he said, because the position was going to end when the city went into a financial emergency, but he did it for another year for $1.
Zobo also said that, as the park’s director, he created a sledding hill at Gerard Liberty Memorial Park at a very low cost, but did not continue when his position was cut, and fishing programs at the lakes did not continue. Zuppo said the program in the lakes was “Self-sufficiency.”
I don’t know why they needed to get rid of it. We broke up every year,” Zobo said. It’s as if the current administration doesn’t want to be bothered about that. The same thing happened with sledding.
When people look to come to a town, Zobo said he thinks they look to schools, safety and recreation. While he praised the schools and safety forces, he said the city had not done much in terms of recreation since he left.
There is a lot to do in the lakes, Zubo said. He said the city should have been working on plans for the site whether or not it had the money, so that when it did get the money, it could start right away.
Melfi said the Lakes purchase is one of three major purchases that put the city in a state of financial emergency. He said the lakes were purchases in the 1990s with the aim of making them a source of water and are now being paid off. He said the city has known for decades that there are no grants for water and sewerage because nobody lives there. Melfi said extending water and sewage to the property would cost between $8 and $10 million.
The property cost $500 million and took 20 years to pay off. Melfi said the city has put the property on the market in the past, and the only bid it received was $1.2 million.
“They were bought for water consumption. Nobody checked the quality of those lakes,” he said. My file said. “It’s not a diamond in the rough. It’s still a white elephant, and unless someone wants to spend $10 million to make $5 million, they’ll still be a white elephant.”
From here, he said, it was the council’s responsibility to sell the property.
Zuppo said he will do everything he can to bring business to Girard, as well as work with business owners who are already downtown to ensure that the city government meets their needs. If elected, Zuppo said he plans to get more involved with groups like the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
He said he would be open to looking at downtown architectural standards to improve its appearance. He noted that other communities agreed to match the money that business owners put in their storefronts. Zobo also said he would support tax cuts, as long as they are related to jobs.
Zobo also said that he can facilitate a good relationship between the city government and the schools.
He criticized Melfi for not posting job opportunities on the city’s website, which he said was not transparent. Zobo said he had never seen an advertisement for the city. He said the city owed the population to the best position of the people in the city sites.
“You have to post positions,” Zobo said.
Melfi said jobs are often talked about at board meetings. When the city went into a financial emergency in 2001, Melfi said the city cut about 25 percent of city jobs. He said the city has rented some, but not many.
Melfi said he did not believe the city had posted jobs on its website. He said he did not follow the job posting closely.
Over the years, Melfi said advertising job openings wasn’t something he caught his eye. He said the city accepts job applications daily and has used this method to fill positions as they open.
After being asked about it, Melfi went on to explain that all police and fire sites are posted by the civil service. He also said that from now on, he said, all vacancies will be posted publicly, including in the Tribune Chronicle.
Current position: Mayor Gerrard
Priorities: Protecting budget surpluses, improving neighborhoods, improving downtown and industrial areas.
Current position: Girard Treasurer and Chairman of the Girard Education Board
Priorities: developing Girard Lakes, ensuring transparency in government, building downtown Girard and strengthening the city.