Losing time for transit bid process

Board tables ‘high-priced attorney’ for FTA call

WARREN — While members of the Trumbull County Transit Board are on the phone with the Federal Transit Administration, the chairman plans to ask what the board can do to extend a contract with the company that provides rides for the public system if it can’t get the bid process started and completed before the end of the year.

Transit Chairman Robert Faulkner said he is waiting to hear from a representative of the FTA to see what dates the board members supplied to the agency will work for a joint conference call. The FTA requested the call to discuss concerns about the local system.

Faulkner said he also plans to use the session to ask questions of the federal representatives. Although the contract with Community Bus Services ends at the end of the year, the board has not put the contract out to bid yet.

Faulkner said the package hasn’t been prepared because of changes in administration this year. Faulkner said the board wants to know if the FTA will allow it to continue the contract on a month-to-month basis until the package can be prepared and the process is followed through.

Mark Hess retired at the end of 2017 as transit administrator, but filled in until a part-time replacement was found. When she quit, the board hired Hess as administrator on a contract basis at $50 an hour. Board members and Trumbull County commissioners have been looking for a permanent replacement.

One of the concerns the FTA has is the board’s lack of an administrator, Hess said.

While Faulkner convened a special meeting Tuesday for the purpose of hiring an attorney that specializes in transit law, the board members present chose to table the idea after questions were raised about the necessity.

“All the years I worked in transit, I never went into a meeting with the FTA with an attorney. It isn’t necessary. They won’t be asking legal questions, they will be asking financial and technical questions about operations,” Hess said.

While it is possible the FTA could raise an issue that would require an attorney to address, the board does have its own attorney, Dan Keating, Faulkner said.

Hiring a “high-priced” attorney beforehand would be “putting the cart before the horse,” Hess said.

Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa urged against hiring the attorney and said he would have voted against paying for him even if the transit board approved the move.

“I just questioned why the transit board needed legal representation for a conference call with the FTA. We are supposed to be working with the FTA on how to effectively run and improve the system. The nature of the call, as I was told, pertains to technical aspects of transit, not any legal ambiguities,” Cantalamessa said.

The transit board is under the commissioners, its members are appointed by the commissioners and a limited amount of funding for the board’s activities comes from county funds.

Although he could not attend the meeting Wednesday, transit board member Carl Clemens shared his opinion in an email.

“I would like to get on record as being opposed to retaining a lawyer without cause. In my opinion, it makes us look like we are guilty of something. I think monies that are supposed to be used for transporting people should be used for just that, not for lining lawyers’ pockets,” Clemens stated.

The notice requesting the special meeting said the attorney also would have represented the board as they await an opinion from the Ohio Attorney General about using senior levy funds on a transit system that provides rides to the general public.

Any member of the general public living in Niles, Howland, McDonald, Girard, Cortland and Warren can schedule a ride with the transit system for $4, one way. People living in those communities who are 60 or older, ages 2 to 12, or living with a disability can take a one-way ride for $1.50.

People living in Trumbull County but outside of the previously listed communities can arrange a one-way ride for $8, people who are 60 or older for $2, and people age 2 to 12 or who have a disability can take a one-way ride for $4.

To arrange a ride, call 330-369-2600 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. up to a week in advance. Rides are offered from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends and holidays.