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Ex-employee says he quit due to Frenchko

WARREN — A man who worked as a maintenance supervisor in the county said he retired early to avoid further interactions with the county’s newest commissioner.

Roy Elza attended the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday and penned a letter to commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa and Frank Fuda explaining how he felt offended by Commissioner Niki Frenchko.

Elza worked for 26 years in the vehicle maintenance department before becoming the evening supervisor for the maintenance department for the past six years.

After arriving back from some vacation in mid-January, Elza said he stopped in Frenchko’s office around 7 or 7:30 p.m.

“When I returned (from vacation), I found we had a new commissioner who frequently stayed after normal business hours during our custodial work shift,” Elza’s letter states. “Which is usually a rarity (because) cleaning is done at this time since office employees are off duty.”

Though many tasks during the day are completed by custodial staff after a work order is submitted, in the evening, departments call Elza directly, he states in the letter.

So, Elza stopped in her office to give her his phone number so she could contact him if she needed anything done, he said.

“I have used my personal phone since day one of my maintenance supervisor position. NEOCAP, the jail, adult probation, juvenile justice center, court of appeals, family court, Judge (Thomas) Campbell, the title office, all the custodians and dayshift maintenance workers, also vendors, have my personal cellphone number,” Elza states.

Frenchko sent an email to Elza’s supervisor about how “unprofessional” she thought it was to give her his phone number and wrote about it on a social media site without using his name.

He was not punished because “everyone she complained to understood my job duties and did nothing,” he wrote. But after she saw him using his phone around 11:30 p.m. one night, she wrote him up for using his phone on county time without asking any questions or discussing the issue.

Elza said in the meeting he had been working with an exterminator all day without breaks, and so was taking a break near the end of his shift.

“So, I wish from here on out you would ask and get your facts straight before you have someone written up. It would have been nice to have been asked,” Elza said during the meeting.

At the meeting, Elza said the incidents were “upsetting,” and he decided to retire and take his pension because he worried further interactions with her might lead to an “off the wall” accusation and cost him the pension.

“I chose to retire early to rid myself of the drama and stress, which will hurt me financially $200+ per month,” Elza’s letter states.

Cantalamessa said Elza has always been a “terrific worker” any time he needed something and apologized to him, adding that he wasn’t there to witness the interaction.

In response at the meeting, Frenchko said she was on the phone when Elza came up to the office door and it is a standard courtesy not to come in when someone is on the phone, and other staff members do not do that. He “slipped” her the phone number on a piece of ripped paper across the desk and that was “inappropriate,” she said.

“I’ve never had any staff member in Trumbull County interrupt me on a phone call in order to tell me that they want to give me the person’s number in case I need them for anything. And, he did not address me as commissioner, that’s the other thing,” she said during the meeting.

She said she felt “uneasy” with the way he approached her.

“I felt very uncomfortable with someone coming in and slipping a phone number on a shredded, ripped off piece of paper. That’s not customary; it’s not professional,” Frenchko said. “I’m the only one there at night, the night before you came in and the hallway lights went off mysteriously, but were turned back on when I asked them to be… People need to learn the appropriate way to behave in an office setting.”

“I’m sorry that you feel that way, but I don’t think that there is anything inappropriate that occurred,” Elza said. A custodian was there cleaning, too, he said.

Frenchko asked Cantalamessa to move the meeting forward and to stop dwelling on the issue.

Cantalamessa said he would, but first said he hopes they all learned something from the interaction he categorized as a misunderstanding and that kindness and respect have to come from the people with the power.

Fuda said Frenchko judged someone she doesn’t know and called him “creepy.”

“That’s not a very kind thing to do,” Fuda said.

After the meeting, Frenchko said the county “doesn’t need this negativity” and that when Fuda brings up these issues to try to make her look bad, and Cantalamessa allows it, it is a disservice to the public and it hurts the reputation of the county.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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