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Attorney files complaint against Frenchko

WARREN — Trumbull County Commissioner Niki Frenchko has been the target of various complaints and legal actions on the part of commissioners’ office staff. Now an attorney for the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office has filed a complaint against her with the county’s human resources department.

Attorney Matt Blair, who works part-time at the Sanitary Engineer’s office, in a complaint filed Wednesday, questions the motives of emails Frenchko sent to Sanitary Engineer Gary Newbrough concerning changes made to existing water service contracts between the county and the city of Girard.

“The email sent by Commissioner Frenchko on Dec. 29, 2021, demonstrates that she completely misinterpreted, at best, or intentionally misrepresented, at worst, contracts sent to her by Sanitary Engineer Gary Newbrough,” Blair wrote in the complaint to HR Director Rich Jackson.

In the email sent to Newbrough, Frenchko questions why a series of changes were put into the new agreement.

In one part she states: “It also appears the clause was eliminated that allows the parties to amend the agreement with mutual consent. This completely goes against what the board (of commissioners) wanted relative to opting out for regionalization.”

Also Frenchko, in the email, refers to a previous phone call she made to Blair in which she was told there was no renegotiating (of the contract), it was delayed for political reasons and there was no intent to change anything.

“On the flip side, I’m here now, and I demand better accountability for time, work, outcome and I also demand respect,” she wrote to Newbrough. “The bridge agreement was only to ram this unchanged agreement from last year down the county’s throat at the last minute with the appearance that there was some effort being made to execute some agreeable changes.”

‘ATTACK’ EMAIL

In his complaint, Blair asks the HR department to investigate whether a third party participated in drafting or sending the Dec. 29 email as well as a Jan. 11 follow-up correspondence.

In that second email from Frenchko to Newbrough, Blair’s complaint states it does not offer an apology for the first “attack” email, but does try to justify the first email with a convoluted explanation of how she had misinterpreted a very clear and concise email that she earlier received from Newbrough.

“It is very important to the Sanitary Engineer’s office that we resume good communications with all three commissioners,” Blair’s complaint concludes.

Blair’s complaint states the “attack email” may have been triggered by a phone conversation Frenchko had with Blair days before the email, regarding the issue of whether Frenchko had been taping their phone conversations.

“Commissioner Frenchko did not say one way or another as to whether she was taping calls but did say that if I was speaking truthfully, I should not mind being taped,” Blair wrote.

In that phone conversation, the complaint states Blair voiced concerns about an hourlong conversation Frenchko claimed she had with Girard Mayor James Melfi regarding the contracts.

“The Girard contract negotiations and my communications with her regarding the same are protected by attorney-client privilege. I felt it was important to tell her that her contact with the mayor of Girard was improper,” Blair wrote.

RESPONSE

Frenchko on Thursday responded to the complaint, saying she began questioning the contract after a public meeting with Melfi was canceled, and Blair failed to notify the board relative to an alleged threat Melfi made about the contracts.

“I requested that the mayor call me,” Frenchko stated. “I don’t make public decisions based on games of telephone. Blair should have sent the commissioners an email.

“There was no improper discussion with Mayor Melfi; it was an effort to verify what Blair had said due to Blair’s failure to keep us appraised via memo.”

Melfi said no threat was made because the contract that was negotiated is similar to previous contracts between the city and county government.

Jackson said the complaint filed by Blair is being processed.

“The next step is to verify the accuracy and validation of the complaint,” he said.

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