Chaos not shushed
Commissioners argue over transparency, photo, other topics during meetings
WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners fought over transparency, meeting minutes, prosecutors’ opinions, who is responsible for fulfilling record requests and what constitutes appropriate conversation during public meetings, among other issues.
There were shushing, insults, accusations of “political games” and even accusations one commissioner took photos of another in a bathroom.
Commissioner Frank Fuda said he was “really upset” when Commissioner Niki Frenchko took a photo of him as he groomed his hair in a bathroom this week.
“What is the purpose of this kind of stuff?” Fuda asked Frenchko, relating the behavior to that of a 12-year-old. She didn’t respond to that.
UNFILLED RECORD REQUESTS
Warren resident Paul Amos questioned why his public record requests to Frenchko have not been fulfilled. He listed numerous requests made since June. Amos also said Frenchko is blocking people from her social media pages who disagree with her, and he made another request for any posts from the sites that discuss county business. He said elected officials can’t block constituents from venues where they discuss public business.
Frenchko has not fulfilled a Tribune Chronicle record request from June.
When asked the status of the requests Wednesday, Frenchko did not respond immediately. But during meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, Frenchko argued she should not be the person responsible for fulfilling the record requests.
“I am not the custodian of records,” she said.
Frenchko said others should be responsible for fulfilling the requests.
Amos said she is “stalling.”
Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said Frenchko is the custodian of records for her own emails, not the county employees who don’t have access to her accounts.
“I’m not going to … that’s not what I do,” she said.
Cantalamessa said the “onus” is on her to fulfill the request, even if that means sending a letter informing the requester that the request is too broad.
“As a board we are routinely asked for information from either the general public or the media. The prosecutor determines whether the requests are overly broad, in which case the request is usually pared down to be more reasonable so that it can be fulfilled in a timely manner. That being said, one commissioner has had numerous records requests that have yet to be satisfied,” he said after the meeting. “Personally, I don’t understand that. If you have the time to comb through prior meeting summaries in hopes of finding errors or omissions from our clerks or the time to sift through the call logs of our meetings, I’m pretty sure you have the time to go through your emails and fulfill records requests.”
Frenchko tried to argue the commissioners should stop allowing the public to attend meetings via phone. She said the ability to call into the meeting is a distraction to county employees who are attending the meeting. She said she checked phone call logs for the meetings and found numerous county office numbers on the list.
Cantalamessa said employees are capable of listening to a meeting and working at the same time and that the general public deserves a chance to attend the meetings via phone.
Her argument flies in the face of transparency, Fuda and Cantalmessa said. She also said she wants to see a list of names, not just numbers, of attendees.
“What would be the purpose of that?” Cantalamessa asked. She said people attending in person would be asked to sign in with their names. He said anyone who does speak is asked to provide their name.
In a discussion about meeting minutes, Frenchko said minutes from recent meetings submitted to the commissioners for approval contained inaccuracies, while Fuda and Cantalamessa disagreed and passed the minutes. Frenchko said her angle in the discussions wasn’t logged.
When interim clerk Paula Vivoda-Klotz defended the minutes and the process used in the office to create the minutes, Frenchko told her the discussion was “between commissioners.”
Fuda said Frenchko should stop treating people “improperly.”
Fuda and Cantalamessa said Frenchko took the public documents out of the office and marked them up, defacing them.
When the discussion turned to the process for requesting a prosecutor’s opinion, Frenchko said her requests for opinions were not being drafted. She wants an opinion on whether defamatory statements about a public official can be made at a public meeting.
Cantalamessa said her request for the opinion is “filled with lies.”
Vivoda-Klotz said she does work for the board, equally, but Frenchko has asked her to cite case law and draft things herself, and she doesn’t feel comfortable doing so.
Cantalamessa said Frenchko needs to draft the letter and the clerk will put it on letterhead for the other commissioners to sign, or not.
Frenchko again told Vivoda-Klotz her job was to conduct the meeting, not contribute to the discussion.
“But you’re talking about me, ma’am,” Vivoda- Klotz said.
Cantalamessa implored Frenchko to “treat people with a little respect.”
Fuda said Frenchko doesn’t show workers respect.
Frenchko again said the clerk isn’t drafting things for her, Vivoda- Klotz explained why she couldn’t draft something with legal arguments.
“I respect you and I work for you equally,” Vivoda-Klotz said.
“No, this is not your job. Shhhh,” Frenchko said to her.
“No, don’t please … I’m still a person,” Vivoda- Klotz said.
Cantalamessa said Frenchko was being “completely ridiculous.”
Frenchko later said it was “poor form” for Vivoda-Klotz to respond to Frenchko’s accusations.
“When you are talking about her job performance and she can’t respond to you? That’s going to be a problem,” Cantalamessa said. “But it’s OK for you to talk about her publicly, but it’s not OK for her to respond to you publicly?”
Fuda said Frenchko wants others to be “transparent” but doesn’t want to herself.
“We are going to give people the opportunity to speak, OK? Especially when you question their job performance,” Cantalamessa said.
‘DISGUSTING and DEPLORABLE’
During the Wednesday meeting, employee Shara Taylor spoke up and called on Frenchko to attend a public staff meeting, after avoiding a previous public staff meeting.
“We’re asking you when you’re available, we’d like to have another staff meeting, that’s the question, bottom line,” Taylor said.
Frenchko said she objects to holding the meeting with “county money” and refused to identify a day or time to hold the meeting. She offered to hold private meetings and questioned why it needs to be done in public.
“This is directly related to county work,” Cantalamessa said. He said Frenchko has disparaged employees publicly, and they should have a chance to confront her publicly about the remarks.
“It was OK for you to do it publicly, but it’s not OK for them to do it publicly, is that what you’re saying? So there is a double standard,” Cantalamessa said.
Taylor said Frenchko’s attitude in emails to staff is “disgusting and deplorable.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself. Absolutely ashamed,” Taylor said.
Cantalamessa said he and Fuda won’t allow Frenchko to “hijack” the county and say false things about the employees.
“And you know what we’re going to do, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to call public meetings, and we’re going to air them out. That’s what we’re going to do. And you’re going to have your stance, and we’re going to have ours,” Cantalamessa said.
“You’re going to have public meetings and air out things I say outside of the office?” she said.
“Yes, yes,” he said, the employees deserve a chance to defend themselves.
Fuda said anytime Frenchko is talking about the county, regardless if she is in the office, it is public business.