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Officials spar over hiring transit assistance

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners clashed Wednesday when deciding whether to hire someone for a day of work at $50 per hour.

Commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa and Frank Fuda voted to hire Mark Hess, former transit administrator, to assist Mike Salamone, current transit administrator, in finding files and other information the Federal Transit Administration requested and requires in order to give the Trumbull County Transit Board access to federal funds.

Commissioner Dan Polivka voted against the move.

Hess said Wednesday Salamone only needs help locating some information, and he expects to assist for one day.

The seemingly simple request ballooned into an argument between Polivka and Fuda, touching on the animosity growing between the two on the topic of the county’s public transportation system.

“We hired Mr. Salamone and he has been here eight months, we pay him $79,000 a year… I have the utmost confidence in Mark Hess, but how much is this going to cost, how long are we going to have him on? It just seems like transportation is in somewhat of a shambles,” Polivka said.

Salamone was in Chicago working on transit issues during the meeting and wasn’t there to answer Polivka’s questions. It appears the commissioners didn’t realize Salamone was asking for a limited amount of assistance.

“Transportation has been in shambles for many, many years. It is finally getting straightened out. Mark Hess was the person working there before Mr. Salamone. He has the expertise that we need,” Fuda said.

Polivka accused Salamone of not doing his job and said it was “bull” that the commissioners hire someone else to assist.

Fuda said Salamone is cleaning up the mess that was left for him, but it is going to take time to satisfy the FTA.

Cantalamessa agreed.

“Let’s focus on the larger issue. We need to be in compliance. That needs to happen, and if Mark helps that along, then I am going to vote for this. The issues he is dealing with predate him,” Cantalamessa said.

Polivka said Salamone is paid well and has a county-owned apartment to live in, and that if he needs the help of others, the cost should come out of his salary.

Cantalamessa said he understands Polivka’s hesitance, saying “I don’t normally like to spend money when we have someone in place,” but “because of the non-compliance factors with the FTA, because of the board’s lack of ability to work with the transit administrator in the past — be it Mark Hess, or Mike Salamone” — and a “board that has sort of stymied Mike at every turn, in order to clean this mess up, we need as many people as we can because the future of transit kind of relies on it in a lot of ways.”

Fuda said the transit board is moving in the right direction now.

After Hess retired, the board and commissioners had a hard time finding a replacement. He helped out between administrators and assisted the new administrators at various times, earning $50 per hour. He was paid $550 for work in January, according to information Polivka provided.

Cantalamessa said commissioners are paying for Hess instead of the transit board because the FTA wants the transit administration to be separate from the transit board and transit provider. Salamone is employed by commissioners too.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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