LORAIN — In an effort to shift spending from salaries to road, park and neighborhood improvements, the city is eliminating its Community Development Department and five of the department’s management positions, Mayor Chase Ritenauer announced Thursday.
Less than a year after Sandy Prudoff, who had directed the department for decades, was sentenced to two years in federal prison as part of a Cuyahoga County corruption investigation, Ritenauer is moving not only to eliminate what had been Prudoff’s power base but also what Ritenauer described as a culture of empire building.
At one time, he said, the department had as many as 40 employees.
“It had 16 or 17 when I came in,” he said, referring to his inauguration in late 2011. “It’s now down to 12. The problem is it’s still overstaffed.”
Despite that, he said, it has produced “very little in terms of actual, tangible results.” Over the years, he estimated, “hundreds of thousands of dollars” have been spent on staff and projects “with no direct benefit to our residents.”
With five fewer employees and a redistribution of the department’s responsibilities, Ritenauer said, the city should be able to put at least $500,000 more annually, and perhaps as much as $750,000 to $1 million, back into the community “in the form of road repair, elimination of blight and improvements to neighborhoods and parks.”
Rey Carrion, whose work as acting director of the department Ritenauer praised, likely will be a candidate to lead a new Department of Building, Housing and Planning, he said. It will assume some of Community Development’s responsibilities. Others will be split between a new deputy safety-service director of community programs and affairs and the Lorain Development Corp., which will work more closely with the Lorain Port Authority.
Calling housing blight a critical issue, Ritenauer said that money saved through the reorganization would allow the new department to employ three full-time housing inspectors. He also said he would ask City Council on Monday to approve point-of-sale inspections for houses, mirroring the city’s rental registry; a “blue tarp” ordinance that would give property owners three months to complete repair projects; and a nuisance ordinance that would impose penalties on residents whose actions generate repeated non-emergency calls to police but who fail to resolve the problems.
Ritenauer also said he intended the reorganization to put his administration in charge of developing plans for the use of federal community development block grant and HOME funds, which totaled about $1.5 million last year.
Not only did Prudoff dictate to the administration and Council what would be done with funds, Community Development also exercised such poor management and oversight that Lorain has been penalized on the amount of funding it receives.
Leon Mason has been promoted from executive assistant to the safety-service director to the new deputy safety-service director position, Ritenauer said. Mason will report to the mayor’s chief of staff, Derek Feuerstein.
Doug Rangel, executive director of Lorain Development Corp., will play a larger role in economic development, working with the Port Authority.
Larger cities use their port authorities to drive economic development, Ritenauer said. “It is time Lorain did so as well.”