Whether it's the City of Warren's Community Development Department, or the Trumbull County Treasurer's Office, heads should roll if the demolition grant train wreck plays out.
Warren's problems are many - low property values, crime, arson, declining population ...
A strong demolition program won't solve any of the problems, but it would bring some relief to all of them. That's because abandoned, condemned houses deflate property values, serve as havens for criminals, are ripe targets for arsonists and drive residents out of the city.
So news last year that Attorney General Mike DeWine would devote $75 million from a legal settlement with mortgage companies for a demolition grant program was met with great fanfare. Warren received the maximum $500,000 by putting up a $500,000 match.
Now, halfway through the year, Warren has demolished just one condemned house. Just one. Other Trumbull County communities that have received the Move Ohio Forward grant have already torn down houses. Around the state, cities and counties are erasing their blight. In Youngstown, more than 100 houses have been razed. In Lorain, more than 150.
In Warren, one.
At first glance, blame seems to land squarely on Community Development Director Michael Keys, whose office controls the demos. However, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin shifted the blame to Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa.
''We are not the fiscal agent for this project,'' Franklin said. ''When we were in charge of the NSP (Neighborhood Stabilization Program) demolition funds, we were ahead of schedule in the demolition of homes.''
Lamancusa's office is the fiscal agent.
The treasurer said he would not address the mayor's comment. That can be interpreted two ways. Lamancusa might be avoiding his office's responsibility for this horrendous blunder. Or he might be taking the high road in dealing with a mayor that wants to deflect the blame.
Either way, this is shaping into one of the worst political mistakes in a long, long, long time. One reason is that the attorney general's office announced that it would not extend the grant past Dec. 31. Whatever is unspent by the end of the year must be returned.
Another reason is that another $100 million statewide (the exact amount is yet unknown) is about to be made available from the Treasury Department's Hardest Hit Fund. But that money will most likely be rewarded based heavily on how communities handled the attorney general's grant. Warren will flunk that test.
And yet another reason is that many important nonprofits and philanthropic groups have coalesced behind a viable plan to repopulate the city. Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, Gregg's Gardens, Trumbull 100 and the Fund for our Economic Future are committed to revitalizing the Garden District and Historic Perkins Neighborhood. But their success hinges on a successful demolition program.
How humiliating it would be to tell the Cleveland-based Fund for our Economic Future, the attorney general's office and the Treasury Department that over here in Warren we couldn't do much with $1 million in demolition money.