Planning commission director on leave

WARREN — The Trumbull County engineer and a county commissioner are denying their behavior led to the hostile work conditions cited by the executive director of the county’s planning commission when she notified her board she is taking three months of medical leave.

Trish Nuskievicz, director of the Trumbull County Planning Commission, is using time she has accrued and the the Family Medical Leave Act to take time off for “serious health-related conditions that have been caused from working in a very hostile work environment.” Her condition is a result of “intense psychological abuse, bullying, retaliation, discrimination and general harassment brought about by the Trumbull County engineer and his associates,” Nuskievicz wrote in a July letter to Jim Shader, chairman of the planning commission board.

Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith referred questions to attorney Matt Blair, who sent a press release denying “any allegation” that the professional relationship between the offices have been “adversely affected by some perceived innuendo that he harbors animosity against the LGBT community.”

Nuskievicz is married to a woman, Heidi Nuskievicz, who spoke at the Wednesday commissioner meeting.

“If it were your mother, daughter, sister, grandmother or granddaughter who was being treated the same way she has been treated, I think you would do the right thing and help. She has asked over and over for the bullying, retaliation and psychological abuse to stop. It has created a hostile work environment and has damaged her health,” Heidi Nuskievicz said, addressing the commissioners and asking them to talk with Smith and “put a stop to this.”

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said he has never heard or been a part of discussions that referenced Nuskievicz’ sexuality.

“I had no idea she was a gay woman. That is news to me,” said Commissioner Frank Fuda.

Trish Nuskievicz states in her letter to Shader that Fuda made statements to her that made her feel as if he felt discriminatory toward women or the lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual and transgender community.

“That has nothing to do with it,” Fuda said.

Commissioners are on the planning commission board, where a meeting was held in executive session to discuss Trish Nuskievicz.

Fuda said someone in the executive session must have told director Nuskievicz that she may be asked to resign. But, Fuda said no one should have told her that and any issue with her is with job performance.

Commissioner Dan Polivka said he respects Trish Nuskievicz but has heard of some concerns in the last year.

The Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office will be asked to examine statements in Trish Nuskievicz’s letter, Polivka said.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said he isn’t sure if there were talks of replacing Trish Nuskievicz as planning director, but there were concerns.

“Some saw some shortcomings in recent months,” Cantalamessa said.

In her letter, Trish Nuskievicz pinpoints the beginning of the harassment she said she experienced in September 2016, when Smith’s office tried to help a developer in Liberty seek a variance to county subdivision regulations. The developer of Kline’s Farm, Jerry Altobelli, wanted to install fewer monument boxes — required in road intersections and curves for surveying –in order to save $6,000 to $7,000.

The planning commission’s plats and zoning committee and the board denied the variance in December 2016 — with Fuda’s vote, the letter states.

“Smith and Commissioner Fuda would repeatedly raise the same issue again and again, although the decision had already been made to deny the variance,” Nuskievicz states in the letter.

The variance couldn’t be approved because the only reason it was requested was to save money, which the regulations don’t allow, Nuskievicz states.

Nuskievicz heard from others she was being targeted specifically for removal and that Fuda complained she made too much money, the letter states.

As time went on, commissioners moved employees out of her office without consulting her, and then refused to let her hire replacements.

In July 2017, Smith sought a legal opinion to see if he could stop providing the planning commission with services but the two bodies have had to work together despite the differences between office leadership.

Nuskievicz said her record at the planning commission stands on its own, citing numerous accomplishments in her 22 years employed with the commission, earning nine promotions and without a “single negative mark” on her record.

“It was not until I ‘blew the whistle’ on the engineer’s attempts to circumvent the planning commission’s statutory authority that I became a target that they continually undermine, discredit and cut off from work opportunities that the planning commission would normally be involved in or leading,” Nuskievicz states.

As engineer, Smith does not have any direct decision-making ability over Nuskievicz’ job.