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Robert’s Rules don’t point to order for commissioners

WARREN — The lack of decorum at Trumbull County commissioners meetings was the topic that led to more arguing among the elected officials at their Thursday meeting.

“Point of order,” Commissioners Niki Frenchko and Mauro Cantalamessa said to one another at various points in the meeting, a phrase Frenchko has taken to using when she feels she is being “insulted” during the meetings.

The issue arose when Cantalamessa and Commissioner Frank Fuda decided to table four items Frenchko had added to the agenda between their meeting Wednesday and the meeting Thursday, both held a day later than usual because of the Labor Day holiday.

Fuda and Cantalamessa said Frenchko didn’t get the items on the agenda soon enough for the week and considering she created the rule that items had to be added to the agenda the Thursday before a meeting, she should have followed that policy.

“In order to have policies, we have to abide by them or else they are just suggestions. So if you want to add policies, let’s start with following the policies we have in place — the social media policy, the public records policy, and now this policy,” Cantalamessa said.

Frenchko said she asked the clerk to add the items in the week prior, and they were discussed in the meeting last week and in the workshop Wednesday, so there shouldn’t have been a problem adding the items to the agenda.

Interim Clerk Paula Vivoda-Klotz said she received an email from Frenchko, but she misunderstood it, noting it didn’t include all four of the items and Frenchko didn’t give her the language until Wednesday.

The items are motions to implement a policy requiring a time sheet or a time clock for all employees under the commissioners, a policy requiring job descriptions for all nonunion employees under the commissioners, to implement a standard hiring policy and to “request the board of (commissioners) to familiarize themselves with the Robert’s Rules of Order in order to keep more order” during meetings.

Frenchko said after the meeting the rule to have the items provided to the clerk the Thursday before the meeting “was because department heads sometimes asked for things to be added the day before the meeting.”

“This is a commissioner’s item. And I’m not Frank’s or Mauro’s subordinate; it’s time they stop treating me as such. I had my requests in last week. The only new one was the Robert’s Rules suggestion, and we discussed all those things (Wednesday). There were no surprises,” she said.

Fuda and Cantalamessa did not express much support for Frenchko’s policies during the discussions, stating the existing policies are sufficient and some of the measures might be useful, with different language and more research.

Frenchko said the time-card proposal for the employees that don’t use them already is to promote accountability.

Director of human resources Richard Jackson said the salaried employees don’t need to keep track of their daily hours, because they are paid regardless. Frenchko said she wants to see their hours worked and details about what they are working on because she often is left out of the loop and doesn’t know what people are working on.

Cantalamessa said Frenchko could talk to the employees to find out what they are working on, and if she was in the office she would know who was there when.

“If we want to start accounting for our time, maybe we start accounting for the board’s time. Let’s start with the head; let’s start accounting for our time here. I’m for that,” Cantalamessa said, apparently echoing claims from prior meetings that she doesn’t work in the office often or during normal hours.

During the discussion about Robert’s Rules, Fuda said it is Frenchko who often breaks decorum, there are various versions of the rules that could be adopted and she doesn’t research things before bringing them to the board.

“You’ve been breaking Robert’s Rules at least since we started … We would like to research that before we decide to vote on that. Sometimes you’re not aware of what you’re bringing in. You just bring them in and say things and you expect us to agree with …” Fuda said before Frenchko cut in by calling out “point of order” several times.

Cantalamessa told her to let Fuda finish speaking.

Frenchko said Fuda was insulting her, so the rules permit her to interrupt him and stop him.

“I didn’t insult you,” Fuda said, noting she continually interrupts them even though she gets upset if she is interrupted.

“No one is insulting anyone,” Cantalamessa said.

Frenchko said she does know about the rules — guidance on procedures for running public meetings — from her time on a county board before she took office, and the board adopted the procedural rules in January.

“I am open to discussing this so that our meetings can move more smoothly. That’s why I added it. And I’m hopeful that the board can recognize that it’s been running amuck and that we do need to get back to using a parliamentary procedure and that we need to come to …” Frenchko said until Cantalamessa interjected.

“Point of order,” he said several times.

“What is your point?” she asked.

“The meetings have never run amuck in the seven years that I’ve been here or in the 15 years Frank’s been here. The eight months and nine months that you’ve been here they’ve run amuck, so what do we attribute that to?” Cantalamessa said.

Frenchko said the meetings should not be “ad hoc mudslinging” events.

A website about the rules of order states after a point of order is called generally to declare a procedural misstep and it is up to the president of the board to affirm it or deny it.

Frenchko argues anytime someone says something insulting about her, it isn’t county business and the meetings only are supposed to include county business. Cantalamessa has argued she doesn’t get to define what is or isn’t county business and she often is the person insulting others.

After the meeting, Cantalamessa said the rules are a guide, not a law.

“Robert’s Rules are there as guides to facilitate meetings. They exist to help facilitate and have structure to meetings, but she thinks they need to be followed to the letter — except by her — which is ridiculous,” he said.

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