Transit board considers cutting mobility manager

County looks to save money after losing revenue sources

WARREN — The Trumbull County Transit Board at its next meeting will consider ending a contract with Michael Verich, a contractor who provides mobility management services for the board.

The board, at its meeting Thursday, also discussed an issue with identifying the townships, cities and villages its riders live in so it can tell those communities — which pay the board annually to give their residents a subsidized fare — exactly how many rides on the public system originate in their communities.

The software the board’s contractor — Community Bus Services — uses identifies the community by zip code, said Terry Thomas, president and CEO of the company.

That means rides originating in places like Howland, Champion or Leavittsburg — which have Warren mailing addresses — register as Warren rides. So numbers for Warren rides are inflated and rides from the other communities are underrepresented. The issue affects other communities in the area, such as all of the rides that originate in Newton Township and Newton Falls register as Newton Falls rides.

Thomas said an employee has been working on tweaking the software to try to track the rides the way the board wants it to, but hasn’t completed it. The employee was on vacation and not at the meeting.

Before an agreement can be made with any new communities, the issue should be worked out first, said Martha Yoder, a board member. A contract with Newton Falls is being considered.

Warren provides the board with about $20,000 for the discounted rides, and Howland provides about $9,500.

The board, which is looking for new revenue sources amid a freeze on its access to federal dollars and the reallocation of some local funds, is scheduled to consider saving $3,000 per month at a special meeting at the end of the month by ending its contract with Verich.

He is contracted to provide mobility management services to the board, but questions about the benefits he brings to the board for the amount of money he costs have been ongoing for years.

Many of the projects he has worked on for several years haven’t materialized. A bid to secure a transportation line for Youngstown State University students in Trumbull County came up several years ago, and although it has been mentioned regularly over the years, the project hasn’t happened. Neither has a solution to Warren’s food desert problem, which is another regular item Verich brings up at meetings.

Verich’s invoices to the board were mostly copied and pasted from the previous month until they recently became more detailed. He works no set hours and there are no hourly requirements for the $36,000 per year he makes.

In 2018, former transit administrator Mark Hess said Verich wasn’t doing the job of a mobility manager at all. He also is a registered lobbyist for the board, and Verich said it was his duty to shake money out of Columbus and find other new revenue sources. Instead, the board has been losing revenue sources.

The job of mobility manager is to keep close contact with all transit providers in a tri-county area and to facilitate trips for people with alternative transit providers when their main provider cannot give the ride, Hess said in 2018.

Instead, people were put on waiting lists, hanging up and not getting a ride, or calling to complain that everytime they called to get a ride, the service was booked.

He was hired in 2014 and attempts to eliminate the position in the past have been stalled.

When Verich was first hired, he was paid $1,500 per month, but also was able to expense items. Invoices from that time show numerous expensive steak and lobster dinners costing several hundred dollars apiece, according to the records.

Verich spoke Thursday about a grant he wants to pursue through the Warren Area Chamber of Commerce Education, Civic and Cultural Foundation to help with the food desert problem, but he needs more information in order to make an application, he said. Verich said he is also exploring a new relationship with the Western Reserve Port Authority.

The board met in an executive session Thursday to discuss Verich’s position, but decided to have the discussion in a regular session before taking action. Before the executive session began, a reporter objected to the use of an executive session to discuss Verich’s contract.

The reporter argued Verich is a contractor, not a public employee, and Ohio’s law governing open public meetings state boards can discuss the employment of public employees and public officials in executive session. The reporter argued he is not employed by the board, but contracted like its legal and financial officers.

One change recently implemented seems to be working. Since the Trumbull County commissioners decided to award money for senior rides to a group of contractors, instead of the transit board, more people in other categories have been able to get rides, Thomas said.

Because the seniors are no longer using Trumbull transit, others who call in for rides are able to be booked, even with a reduction in the amount of service hours he can provide because of the tightened budget, Thomas said.

A meeting scheduled 3 p.m. July 30 at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center is set to discuss the service reductions and Verich.