Frenchko back, debate ensues
WARREN — After missing seven meetings over the course of four weeks, Commissioner Niki Frenchko returned to the office, attending the Trumbull County commissioners’ regular meeting Wednesday.
Frenchko missed all of the workshop and regular meetings starting the last week of September.
When asked to explain the absence Wednesday, she said it was for “personal reasons” after a long pause.
Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa asked Frenchko near the end of a contentious meeting why she has been telling people he gave her COVID-19.
“I never had COVID,” he said.
“This isn’t county business,” she responded. She said her health shouldn’t be a topic of discussion.
The meeting ran smoothly for about 40 minutes as the commissioners agreed to table two utility contracts with Girard and passed other business.
The waters started getting rocky when commissioners came to agenda items appointing two women to the Trumbull County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
Frenchko said she wasn’t provided with supporting documentation for the choices — something she wants any time there is a board appointment — like the letters of interest and resumes submitted by all of the applicants. She also did not think the vacancies on the volunteer board were advertised. They were made public in September.
“Ms. Frenchko, you haven’t been here for three weeks,” Commissioner Frank Fuda said. “How would you be here for us to do that? You never called us or anything.”
Frenchko voted against appointing Kimberly Hynes and Mary Cunningham to the board, but Fuda and Cantalamessa passed the measure and said the two are highly qualified.
The division continued to build when the discussion turned toward the pay reclassification of a payroll secretary / receptionist / clerk. Fuda and Cantalamessa voted to move her from pay range five at 10 years of service to pay range seven with 10 years of service, an increase from $17.69 to $20.09 per hour.
Frenchko voted “no,” saying the job description for the employee isn’t updated with new responsibilities.
“There are no additional duties,” Frenchko said.
Cantalamessa said the office is functioning with one fewer person and all of the staff are taking on more responsibilities.
“You are not here to see those additional duties take place,” he said.
The employee is the only payroll clerk in the county at pay range five, the rest are at seven, Cantalamessa said.
Frenchko said the additional duties should be listed in the job description to justify a pay increase.
Then the two began talking over each other. Frenchko told Cantalamessa not to interrupt her, and he told her he had to.
“Respect your fellow commissioner, sir,” she said.
She kept speaking and a few moments later Cantalamessa told the clerk to call the roll for the vote. Frenchko continued talking over him.
“Officer …” Fuda said, referring to the sheriff’s deputy who attends meetings for security.
The clerk called the roll and Cantalamessa and Fuda voted “yes.”
Frenchko kept talking as they voted. Fuda and Cantalamessa told her to cast a vote.
“The discussion is over,” Cantalamessa said.
Frenchko said it appears to her that employees who filed complaints against her are being rewarded with raises. The employee, Dawn Gedeon, and other staff in the office have filed complaints against Frenchko, including the clerk and the assistant clerk, Paula Vivoda-Klotz and Lisa DeNunzio Blair, respectively. Frenchko has accused the women of having ulterior motives for filing the complaints before, something all the women strongly denied. They said they decided to file the complaints because they believe Frenchko’s behavior toward them warranted the complaints.
Cantalamessa said after the meeting: “This isn’t about rewarding an employee for filing anything and that is a dangerous assumption to make. The fact of the matter remains that we have reduced the number of our staff by one and are saving upwards of $80-90,000 yearly when you factor in all legacy costs. That’s simple arithmetic and that’s called doing more with less.”
Cantalamessa said she would understand the additional duties being completed if she spent more than a “few hours a month in the office.”
When asked after the meeting what benefit Cantalamessa and Fuda gained by the staff filing complaints against Frenchko, she responded that it benefits the Democratic party in the area. Frenchko is a Republican.
“The glaring truth is revealed when people read between the lines,” she said.
The issues continued after business moved along to the medical service contract for the Trumbull County jail. Fuda and Cantalamessa voted to keep using Dr. Phillip Malvasi for the contract at a rate of $35,273 per month. The contract is a month long, but is expected to be continued each month by both parties, which would amount to a cost of $423,276 per year.
The contract has to be handled on a month-to-month basis because of an issue with malpractice insurance, Cantalamessa said.
Frenchko said the contract should be bid out publicly before it is awarded and questioned if a month-to-month contract is appropriate.
Cantalamessa said they have looked into other medical providers and the deal with Malvasi is the best out there.
“This is why you need to do your homework before you come here and spout off inaccuracies,” Cantalamessa said. “We looked at different ways to do this.”
He said hundreds of thousands were saved and claims are down.
The conversation turned when Fuda told Frenchko she makes comments about things she doesn’t know anything about and that she doesn’t know how to do the job of county commissioner.
Frenchko said Fuda was no longer discussing county business and asked Cantalamessa to stop him from talking about her.
He said it is.
“It has to do with your lack of performance (here),” Cantalamessa said.
She said both were acting in a condescending way to her after Cantalamessa told her to go get the special projects coordinator to ask him about the history of the medical services contract.
According to Tribune Chronicle archives, Malvasi has held the contract since 2000. From 2012 until July 2018, it cost the county $304,000 per year. The contract approved in August 2018 initially was supposed to cost $372,204 for two years and then $389,029 until the contract ended in November 2021.
But when Trumbull County commissioners did not receive any other bids except from Malvasi, the contract was canceled and adjusted in December 2018, to eliminate the second and third years.
Commissioners did not rebid the medical contract before again selecting Malvasi in 2019 for the 2019-20 contract at $395,000.
Cantalamessa said other contract options were investigated, and this was found to be the best option after examining other providers in the industry.