Mascio keeping an open mind on Steubenville public market proposal
STEUBENVILLE — Truth be told, Municipal Judge John Mascio likes the idea of turning the old Steubenville Municipal Building into a public market.
He’s just not sure a public market and a criminal court can co-exist in the same space.
“I’m not opposed to the idea of converting the municipal court complex into a market,” Mascio said. “But my initial, knee-jerk reaction is that while it may be a good idea, it’s only a good idea if we’re relocated from this complex. I think it would be difficult for the court to coexist in the same complex as the market.”
That said, Mascio said he looks forward to hearing what, if anything, the experts say can be done to make the building serve two masters.
“I’m certainly not opposed to looking at whatever ideas are presented,” he said. “But as far as any accommodations for the court, we will have to go forward in a manner that complies with Ohio Supreme Court facility standards and safety standards.”
The court has been the sole occupant of the old building since March 2019, when the police department completed its months-long move into the new building next door.
That done, council decided to look at the feasibility of turning the part of the building that had been occupied by the police department over to Steubenville Municipal Court, then converting the rest of the building into a market house.
The building passed its initial structural evaluation, then council paid for a new roof. At council’s last meeting, Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi was given the go-ahead to apply for a planning grant through JobsOhio, despite an eleventh-hour effort by Councilwoman-at-large Kimberly Hahn to table the resolution.
Hahn told council she thought Mascio was having second thoughts about sharing the building with a public market, insisting, “he really doesn’t want part to be his court offices, part the city market.”
Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna took exception to Hahn’s intervention, saying he was confident the judge “understands this is a conceptual plan, that we have to start somewhere. Nothing is set in stone. But the architect will look at what we can do with this building” with and without the court offices included in it.
Mascio insists he’s keeping an open mind until he sees what council comes up with.
“Nothing’s even been proposed yet,” Mascio said. “That what everybody needs to step back and realize. There hasn’t been anything put on paper and reviewed. These are all things just being talked about at this point.”
“It’s way too premature for me as judge to take a position, one way or the other,” he said. “Until something is actually submitted, it’s all speculative.”
Mascio concedes he is concerned half the building might not be enough space for the court to “efficiently operate:” In addition to the courtroom, he said they need space for probation, community service, and record storage, as well as clerk of courts, the prosecutor’s office and judge’s offices.
“(And) this is a criminal court, we have violent offenders here at least several days a week,” he said. “We would need to take measures to ensure market-goers are adequately protected.”
“Police currently provide security on a part-time basis and at times I have had concerns for our staff, let alone throwing the public in the mix,” Mascio said. “If the market were to share the space with us, I actually see it as a deterrent to the public patronizing the market. I think the public might have concerns as well.”
He pointed out the court works “hand-in-hand with the police department on a daily basis, in terms of exchanging information.”
“Ideally, we’d remain in close proximity to the police department,” he said, noting there have been times during his tenure on the bench that he’s had to push the panic button because of security concerns. As it stands now, officers are just a corridor away. “If we’re off site, it’s going to be more difficult. We’d have to have security for the building so the staff and public would be adequately protected.”
At the same time, Mascio said he’s got no problem with council commissioning conceptual drawings, pointing out, “You have to start somewhere.”
And as judge, he adds, “It’s not my place … to tell somebody to move forward with a study or not. That’s a decision solely for council to make.”
“It’s separation of powers,” he elaborated. “My job is to oversee the judicial branch of the city, not to legislate. The Ohio Revised Code doesn’t say a judge gets to pick where his court will be, that’s a decision of council. As long as a facility (meets the) standards and provides the court with mandated needs, I’ll be happy.”
“Everyone who knows me knows I’m a team player and will fully cooperate with whatever council decides,” he said, adding that, “For this project to succeed, it’s going to require cooperation, it’s going to require people with foresight and it’s going to require funding.
“If we’re going to do it, we need to do it right,” he said.