Waste district investigation held from public costs them $21,000

WARREN — An investigatory report, which some members of the board governing the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District refuse to release to the public, cost $21,000 to produce, according to an invoice.

The claims district employees made against the former director of the district were investigated by the Taft Stettinius & Hollister law firm of Cleveland, which is where the board’s attorney, Greg O’Brien, works.

Trumbull County commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa, Frank Fuda and Dan Polivka said they support releasing the publicly funded report. Polivka said after the board’s last meeting, the other three members of the board that oversee the district — Geauga County commissioners James W. Dvorak, Timothy C. Lennon and Ralph Spidalieri — are heeding O’Brien’s advice and refusing to release the report.

Attempts to reach the Geauga County commissioners Monday were unsuccessful. A person who answered the phone said the men only come to the office occasionally.

A message left with O’Brien’s office Monday was not returned. Polivka also did not respond to a request for comment.

Fuda said he asked the employees who are mentioned in the report if they are OK with it being released and they all said “yes.”

The claims made by several women employees about Greg Kovalchick, who retired May 1, were “initially” going to be investigated by the Trumbull County human resources department, Cantalamessa said.

“I believe we were well within our district policy to do so. Some board members weren’t comfortable with that idea. Collectively we decided the best and most agreeable course of action was to have Greg O’Brien and his law firm conduct the investigation. His firm was already retained to represent the district on other matters and everyone was agreeable to that,” Cantalamessa said.

Cantalamessa, like with the planning commission problems, said stronger administrative attention and oversight is necessary to “root out” personnel issues before “they become toxic.”

Personnel issues should be worked out before they develop into problems that require “urgent attention” and the board should be working to create “a positive work environment where our employees can flourish,” Cantalamessa said.

Kovalchick was accused of unprofessional behavior, threatening statements and favoring less-qualified male candidates for jobs.

The allegations claimed Kovalchick told employees he could go in the women’s restroom any time he wanted as director, has a “Glock and isn’t afraid to use it,” has “a lot of experience making pipe bombs,” that “no one can touch him because his wife works for the FBI,” and made innuendos that the female employees exchange sex for favors from men they know, the documents state.

Similar complaints were made in 2018. The investigation was launched in February when the human resources department in Trumbull County was notified.

The investigatory report was completed shortly before Kovalchick was asked to start working from home instead of in the office. After the Tribune Chronicle reported Kovalchick would be working from home, he went on sick leave before retiring May 1.

Kovalchick has denied the claims.

Fuda said the new director, for whom the board has started a search, should be a more capable manager who is better able to work with people and report problems to the board, and who is more organized.

Fuda called for the commissioners in Geauga County to OK releasing the full investigatory report.

“I don’t have a problem with the truth. I don’t think there should be anything to hide here. People should know how this public money is being spent,” Fuda said.