WARREN – Trumbull County Commissioners have had one of their most controversial years in 2021, and the COVID-19 pandemic has nothing to do with it.
The three commissioners argued verbally in meetings, accused each other and others in person and on social media, and quarreled over operational and legislative agendas. The commissioners questioned each other’s work ethic and the hours they kept, suffered illnesses and injuries, and debated what was or was not in the county’s business.
There was even a fight over a commissioner bringing a cat to work.
It looks like these disagreements will continue into the New Year.
The commissioners – Mauro Cantalamessa, Niki Frenchko and Frank Fuda – started the new year on agreement, but it didn’t last.
Frenchko, a Republican and first-term commissioner, was elected in November 2020 and said early on that she wanted to make changes to how the Council of Commissioners works. Frenchko said she wanted to create a new culture in the office.
“I want to see a culture of professionalism, eliminate the culture of corruption and cronyism. I want a culture where employees and staff continually strive to improve service to the public. It involves improvement and introspection, to think about the best ways of doing things, the most ethical way of doing things ”, she said.
Commissioners also began work to dissolve the Trumbull County Transit Board, as it was considering joining the Western Reserve Transit Authority.
In March, several disciplined employees and a former employee filed complaints against Trumbull County, specifically citing Frenchko in the complaints.
Human Resources Director Richard Jackson has filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the State Personnel Review Board; administrative assistant Christine Glenn filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission; newspaper clerk Paula Vivoda-Klotz filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and Cook filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the State Personnel Review Board. Complaints to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the State Personnel Board of Review were dismissed.
At the end of March, Fuda, who backed Frenchko’s candidacy for commissioner against fellow Democratic commissioner Dan Polivka, verbally disagreed with the new commissioner over the fact that he had repeatedly called women working in the office. of the commissioner. “girls.”
Frenchko argued that the term was demeaning to women who worked in the Commissioners’ Office. Many female staff said they had no objection to the term.
Fuda said Frenchko provided commissioners with a list of people she wanted sacked on the first day she started working as a commissioner.
Publicly, Frenchko has denied the accusation.
Although commissioners explored the idea of joining WRTA earlier in the year, in April Fuda and Cantalamessa questioned the need for a $ 6 million to $ 7 million transit system in the county, which would be funded by a 0.25% sales tax. to augment.
This plan provided for new roads that would reach the population and employment areas that were not connected, as well as more frequent roads on busy lines.
The plan offered a transit hub in Warren and a maintenance facility in the county. This equates to jobs to construct the buildings, which would likely be heavily subsidized by federal grants, increasing the positions of bus drivers and other staff to occupy the new buildings.
Fuda and Cantalamessa blocked the plan. Frenchko still supports the plan and says people should vote on whether or not they want to join WRTA. Meanwhile, the state is funding a smaller WRTA presence in the county, and the county transit administrator, the senior levies administrator, and the director of the disability support board. intellectual disabilities have created an on-demand system to support door-to-door transit, with limitations.
In April, a county employee filed a grievance that a cat had been brought to the Commissioners’ Office on multiple occasions because of an allergic reaction.
Frenchko, the cat’s owner, said she brought it to the office to bring a smile to the employees. She denied that the cat caused the woman’s allergic reaction and tried to attribute it to the weather, although a doctor had diagnosed the problem.
The incident was one of many that sparked clashes between Frenchko and Jackson throughout the year, as Jackson backed the employee.
Frenchko attempted to enlist the support of the other commissioners to discipline or fire Jackson, but was unable to.
While Frenchko was on vacation, Fuda and Cantalamessa made the decision to reverse a punishment inflicted on Jackson earlier this year after he used the word “queens” to refer to some staff and told Frenchko not to get “hot and disturbed.”
Jackson in July upheld grievances filed by members of AFSCME Local 2493 against Frenchko.
Union members said they were facing “Unfair treatment… harassment, slander, threats and (a) hostile work environment”.
Frenchko asserted that Jackson’s decision to uphold the grievance limits management rights.
Frenchko had planned to get rid of Jackson early on, Fuda said, while Frenchko said Jackson had acted in an insubordinate manner.
Frenchko, Fuda and Cantalamessa clashed over the implementation of new human resources policies, but agreed to form an expert group to review the policies.
More than half a dozen of the Commissioner’s staff held a public meeting in June at which they voiced complaints against Frenchko. She did not attend.
“She treats us incredibly badly” Shara Taylor, the office’s accounts payable clerk, said.
Staff said Frenchko asked them to do things outside the realm of their job descriptions, used coarse positions and tones when speaking to them, pinched them and told them about a way “degrading” path. Frenchko also made public comments disparaging the staff, they said.
The office also underwent staff changes when former Clerk of Commissioners Paulette Godfrey decided to leave. In an attempt to make her stay, she was offered a raise of $ 4.50 per hour for the eventuality that she apologize to Fuda, she said, which Fuda denies. Godfrey decided to retire after working for the county for 26 years.
Fuda and Cantalamessa promoted interior workers, while Frenchko argued for interviews with external candidates.