Leaders cite positives of area

STEUBENVILLE – Government and business leaders went on the offensive Tuesday afternoon citing the positives of living and working in the city on the eve of a juvenile rape trial that has drawn national and international media attention.

City Manager Cathy Davison declined to comment on specifics of the case brought against two Steubenville High School students or the trial set to begin today in Jefferson County Juvenile Court.

But Davison lead the comments during an afternoon press conference that included local, regional, national and international media representatives.

“We have invited the media here today because of the inquiries on how the city is reacting to this case and what the city has done because of the unparalleled scrutiny of this case,” she said.

“The police did their job and when they realized they needed help they called the (Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.) We created the SteubenvilleFacts.org website and received 250,000 visitors in the first two months. Our city is more than this case. Our community has come together and we are stronger,” Davison stated.

“The police department received information two days after the incident. Within a week arrests were made. Within 10 days a special prosecutor was appointed. We did everything to ensure everything was handled above board,” she said.

According to Davison, since the trial will take place at the Jefferson County Justice Center, the sheriff will handle the logistics.

“If he needs assistance, we will provide help,” she added.

Police Chief Bill McCafferty said it will be business as usual this week as the trial gets under way in the juvenile courtroom at the Jefferson County Justice center.

“We have not received any requests for a street closing for any sort of protest. We do not anticipate any problems but will be ready if necessary. And I have to say we are getting a lot of good feedback from our citizens on our handling of the case,” cited McCafferty.

“Since the media left town earlier in this case, things have gone back to normal. I have received a couple of hate e-mails, but other than that it has really died down. Most of the bad publicity about our city has come from the social media,” said McCafferty.

And Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce President Sue Hershey said the community “wants to see justice prevail.”

“Our community has been painted with a a very broad brush. We support all athletic events in our community along with the bands, plays and other events. Our United Way campaign just surpassed the half million dollar mark. Our community is a great place to live and work. I feel we have been unjustly judged as a community. I can’t believe this has happened to our community,” said Hershey.

Local business owner and community leader Jerry Barilla described media reports and social media comments about Steubenville as “unjust and unfair.”

“We are an old town that grew out of the steel industry. When the steel industry declined we were affected. But we don’t have a professional football team. We don’t have a college football team. We have two very successful high school football teams that we support and naturally we stand behind them. Many comments about Steubenville have been painful to hear. They are hurtful,” he said.

“This is a good town. We have a good police force. Suggestions of crime and corruption throughout are city are absolutely false,” he added.

“I am also co-chair of the Steubenville Visitors Center. Almost immediately we started getting e-mails citing the negativeness of our city. This story has grown across the United States. To let the social media have a frenzy is hurtful,” continued Barilla.

“Every time the press comes to town they show parts of the city that aren’t so nice. The economic downturn has left us with vacant buildings. But to paint the city in that light isn’t fair. We are a city with Franciscan University of Steubenville and Eastern Gateway Community College. Franciscan University brings in people from all over the world. This negativity has to hurt the university. I hope that story can change,” Barilla said.

“There was no cover-up. Do kids act out of hand … certainly. It is part of life. I don’t see where the amount of attention is justified,” said Barilla.

Davison said the young people in the city “are coming together.”

“The school district has held educational meetings. Overall we have had deeper conversations with our residents. But the kids are also dealing with the stress of not being sure to wear their Bed Red jackets. The youth still take great pride in their community. We have two high schools in our city and we have a lot of pride in our community,” Davison remarked.

“This is my home and where I am raising my family. We support each other and love each other,” she added.

“This is an issue across the country. And the underlying issue was the underage drinking. Why no one stood up to stop the incident is an issue. We have been having those conversations,” Davison said.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)