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Transit chair’s email raises questions

WARREN — In an email that one board member said may violate Ohio’s open meetings law, the chairman of the Trumbull County Transit Board calls for Trumbull County commissioners to silence the county’s transit administrator and the administrator of the county’s senior levy.

The email sent Monday by board chairman Robert Faulkner also recommends extending the contract for a busing company without a bid process — a company he is already accused of protecting, instead of supporting a transparent and competitive bid process.

“The board is herein asking the commissioners to instruct Mr. (Mike) Salamone, Ms. (Diane Jurkovic) Siskowic, and the members of the (Trumbull County) Senior (Levy) Advisory Council to cease public comments threatening the board and the existence of (the) Trumbull County Transit System,” Faulkner’s email states.

Salamone, the transit administrator, said at a recent meeting the board’s actions threatened the system. Four members of the board did not vote to request new bids even though the only on-time bid the board received was an incomplete one from the existing contractor, Community Bus Services. The lack of a vote has left the process in limbo.

The board’s legal counsel and Salamone said the board’s own policies were being ignored and a procurement process demanded by the Federal Transit Authority requires the board to keep its distance and allow a selection committee to make a recommendation about what bid to accept.

Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa reacted to the request to silence the two county employees and the commissioner-appointed levy council.

“The transit board’s plea for the commissioners to silence our transit administrator (Salamone), or Diane (Jurkovic) Siskowic, is not only impractical, but flies in the face of transparency. In order for us to collectively make transportation better, we should be urging all the stakeholders, especially the taxpayers, to take an active role. Stifling that type of input is the last thing we should be doing,” Cantalamessa said.

Jurkovic, the senior levy administrator, is auditing the numbers provided by Community Bus Services showing how many rides they gave seniors in exchange for $425,000 in 2018. The company claims 25,000 trips were given and the minimum requirement was 20,000.

She said she, the transit board and the advisory council should be working together to fix problems with the system and ensure levy funds are being used correctly, not calling to silence questions. The senior levy contributes $425,000 to the system’s $2 million budget.

All of the companies that take senior levy money are monitored by Siskowic to ensure the funds are spent correctly. Faulkner said the audit is taking CBS employees away from other responsibilities and criticizing the board doesn’t help to improve it, but makes it look bad.

The email was sent to the six members of the transit board. Member Marlene Rhodes said she believes the email itself violates open meeting laws.

The Ohio Open Meetings Act requires a public body to “conduct deliberations and discuss the public business in an open meeting,” which requires the public to be notified beforehand. Faulkner doesn’t just present new ideas for the board members to deliberate on in the email, but also asks for discussion.

“Please let me know your thoughts on this suggested path forward as soon as possible. If agreeable, I am willing to call a meeting later this coming week,” the email states.

Faulkner said the email was only sent so members would know why he is calling a special meeting Thursday.

“This is not a violation of the Sunshine Law. It is only a statement of my suggested path forward so the board members can know why the meeting is called,” he said in reply to Rhodes.

However, Faulkner’s email also suggests how the board should move forward after failing to follow commissioners’ request to start a request for proposals process over. The email addresses specific actions the board should take.

“When the next RFP is developed, I suggest the board require a separate acknowledgement statement to be signed by each respondent expressing their understanding and acceptance of the terms of cash flow assurance and financial risk. This was not clearly stated in the last RFP and is a major factor considering the extensive amount of money that is at risk in performing this contract. Although it is well documented that the contractor must wait over a year to get paid and the amount owed often times exceeds a million dollars, that fact was left vague the in the last RFP,” the email states.

Mark Hess, the former administrator, said that statement would make the bid process less competitive, and the board isn’t supposed to design the RFP, the administrator is.

Faulkner said he doesn’t think the statement will make the process more competitive, but potential bidders should know how long CBS has to wait sometimes for payment, so he or she is prepared for it. The company fronts the money and has to wait — sometimes for nearly a year — for payment, Faulkner said.

Although a temporary contract with CBS goes through June and has an option to extend on a month-to-month basis, Faulkner states in the email the board should vote to extend the contract with the company for another six months. Even though Salamone said previously he could have the process completed around July if he started it over again soon, he has to await further instruction from the board before he can proceed.

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