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Commissioners meeting drama stays

More squabbling comes during records debate

Staff photo / Renee Fox Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa looks frustrated at the commissioners meeting on Wednesday as colleague Niki Frenchko complains about staff and office procedures. Frenchko wants the county to update its public record fulfillment policy, but Cantalamessa and Frank Fuda said the policy is fine the way it is.

WARREN — Commissioner Niki Frenchko said the county’s public record fulfillment policy is outdated and needs to be revised.

The existing 2008 policy states the office’s “senior representative” is responsible for fulfilling the requests, but no policies identify who the “senior representative” is, she said.

“We don’t, in our board of commissioners’ office, have an office policy, therefore there’s not anyone identified as being the senior representative. I don’t believe it is members of the board,” Frenchko said. “Right now in Trumbull County, we don’t have a compliant public records policy, and it doesn’t identify a policy for fulfillment of record requests.”

But a job description for the county clerk states he or she is to “participate” in responding to record requests, she said. The previous clerk often fulfilled record requests or deferred them to the assistant clerk.

“I suggest an office policy, compliant with the law, and complete with the internal steps and staff designated to execute the fulfillment of public records requests,” she states in a July letter to fellow commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa and county Prosecutor Dennis Watkins.

Wednesday, Frenchko suggested commissioners update the policy. She said the county hasn’t fulfilled 20 pending record requests.

Cantalamessa said he is OK with updating the policy, but he believes the existing policy is functional and compliant.

The clerk is responsible for responding to requests for county records, which he said is clear in existing policies. That extends to the general commissioners’ email address, but not to the individualized email addresses the commissioners have as well, Cantalamessa said. Some personal requests are for Frenchko’s email exchanges.

“Your personal county email is on you to sift through,” Cantalamessa said. “The onus should be on you. You want to deflect it to the clerk.”

Frenchko disagreed, saying the clerk should respond to requests for public emails.

“They can’t access your personal email. Period. End of story,” Shara Taylor, the accounts payable clerk for the county, said to Frenchko at the meeting.

During the conversation, Commissioner Frank Fuda took the opportunity to make another record request of Frenchko — her emails with the former clerk. He also reiterated a request to see transcripts from her appearances on talk radio shows.

“Commissioner, you’ve been in office for decades, I would assume, I would hope, that you would know what a public record is,” Frenchko responded. “And commentary on a radio show is not a public record.”

Frenchko suggested office staff receive formal training on open records laws, a workflow chart and policies.

“You want to make an issue out of something that isn’t there,” Cantalamessa said, adding the policy that’s needed is for Frenchko to “start to respect people.”

Then, Cantalamessa and Fuda said Frenchko wants to make rules or enforce rules that she doesn’t want to follow herself. Cantalamessa said she expects employees to honor a social media policy preventing them from commenting on county business online, but doesn’t refrain herself.

“I’m not an employee,” she said.

“Do you get a paycheck from Trumbull County? Do you represent Trumbull County?” Cantalamessa asked.

“Do you have health benefits?” Taylor asked.

“This is insubordinate,” Frenchko said to Taylor. “Is this on your break?”

Frenchko asked the sheriff’s deputy in the room to tell Fuda to keep his hands out of her face. The deputy stayed at his station. The three commissioners were sitting closely to one another and Fuda was talking with his hands with animation. Fuda said his hands weren’t in her face.

“Why don’t you go sit down there where you belong?” Fuda said.

“Did you just say that?” she said.

“You haven’t been vaccinated, I’m breathing your breath,” Fuda said.

Fuda again began speaking about the rules Frenchko made. She said it was “becoming a circus” and moved to adjourn the meeting. The motion wasn’t seconded.

She said if they weren’t conducting anymore county business, the meeting should end.

Frenchko said the commissioners were treating her with “abject disrespect.” Cantlamaessa said Frenchko treats the people in the office with disrespect.

Frenchko stood up, gathered her things and walked out of the meeting, shutting the door behind her. Moments later, Cantalmessa and Fuda adjourned the meeting.

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