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Feline fracas fills air at county office

HR director says he received complaints

WARREN — A cat seen frequenting the Trumbull County commissioners’ offices on the administration building’s fifth floor was the root of several informal complaints before a union grievance was filed earlier this week by an employee, said the county’s human resources director.

The cat, named Betty, belongs to Commissioner Niki Frenchko.

Richard Jackson, human resources department director, said the cat has been a point of discussion for several weeks.

“The cat has been brought in several times before ‘the last few weeks.’ The reaction by Mrs. (Dawn) Gedeon to the cat was made known several weeks ago, before the formal complaint was written. All in the office knew about it. It has been a discussion for several weeks, not merely this week,” Jackson said.

Gedeon, an administrative assistant, filed a union grievance Tuesday, stating the cat caused a health and safety violation in the office. The woman had an apparent allergic reaction to the cat.

“There was another employee who said she was allergic to cats when the cat first began making an appearance,” Jackson said. But “that employee has since said nothing.”

The cat hasn’t needed to use a litter box in the office, Frenchko said. But a small box is in her office just in case, she said.

DOUBTFUL

On Wednesday, Frenchko said the cat lightened the mood in the office.

Jackson disagrees.

“I doubt the cat has lightened the mood in the office,” he stated in an email.

Frenchko said Wednesday she felt the poor circulation in the office, caused by a heating and cooling system that has been out of order, may have caused the employee’s reaction.

In his opinion, Jackson said, “The issues with the county heating and cooling system had nothing to do with the situation. As stated, this disregard for the health and safety of an employee in the commissioners’ office was well known.”

Frenchko said Wednesday temperatures in the office were between 85 and 90 degrees, and windows were open to increase circulation, which may have allowed allergens in.

Frenchko said no one made her aware the cat was a problem.

“I wasn’t aware this was an issue, there’s been no discussion that included me, and her immediate supervisor was not made aware of any concerns,” she said.

Jackson said he would “find it hard to believe” Frenchko hadn’t heard the cat was an issue before the grievance was filed based on what he has been told, but he doesn’t know for certain whether she was made aware of the concern.

GRIEVANCES

Frenchko said she doesn’t “think it wise for Mr. Jackson to comment on pending grievances.”

Jackson has pending complaints filed with the county. He filed complaints with the State Personnel Board of Review and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission about Frenchko’s treatment of him.

The grievance filed by Gedeon, who is a member of the AFSCME Local 2493, is expected to follow a process outlined in the union’s contract.

Within five days of the occurrence, Gedeon’s direct supervisor, county Clerk Paulette Godfrey, will hold a “step one” hearing.

The correction requested by the woman is the removal of the cat from the offices. On Wednesday, Frenchko said she may bring the cat in again but would keep it confined to her private office.

The issue could enter grievance mediation or arbitration if it is not resolved during the first two steps. The second step includes written responses and a second meeting, according to the union contract.

Commissioners in March tabled a motion to reclassify Gedeon’s position. If it had been approved, it would have come with a two-step pay raise that would have increased her pay by about $5,000 per year.

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