Niki Frenchko returns as commissioners get into squabble

WARREN — Trumbull County Commissioner Niki Frenchko’s first live meeting since facing a temporary civil protection order devolved into a shouting match Wednesday among her two colleagues and herself, when she requested an executive session to discuss litigation.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa asked what the session would be about because he noted Frenchko failed to tell either Commissioner Frank Fuda or himself about the topic prior to the meeting.

Frenchko noted she’s concerned about something but initially did not want to share during the open meeting.

Pushed further, however, Frenchko noted Cantalamessa last weekend hired a lawyer for a personal matter. That law firm is involved in a lawsuit against the the county on a separate issue.

Cantalamessa described being rushed to hire a lawyer after he was subpoenaed by Frenchko’s attorney Friday afternoon to provide a deposition in the legal complaint filed by commissioners clerk Paula Vivoda-Klotz. The issue between Vivoda-Klotz and Frenchko will be heard before a visiting judge on Feb. 4.

Frenchko noted she is concerned about the ethical appearance of having Cantalamessa represented by a law firm for a personal matter that also is involved in a legal action against the county.

Cantalamessa said the lawyer he hired has been working with his family for many years. Furthermore, he added, the lawyer, who is involved in a the year-and-a-half-old tap-in fee lawsuit against the county, works at the same firm but has not been involved with the temporary civil protection order filed against Frenchko.

“You did not give me time to do a search for lawyers,” Cantalamessa said. “I received word on Friday and had to be ready for the deposition on Monday.”

Cantalamessa said his attorney asked the subpoena be quashed. Frenchko’s attorney, according to Cantalamessa, has since decided a deposition is not needed from Cantalamessa.

Assistant county Prosecutor Michael J. Fredericka warned Frenchko to be very careful what she says during the open commissioners’ meeting, stating it would be better to talk during executive session.

The commissioners agreed to an executive session.

Shortly after the executive session, however, Frenchko walked out — noting it deteriorated and they were discussing topics outside of the matter they were to discuss, which is against the rules for executive sessions.

Frenchko stated her belief that Cantalamessa and Fuda had been working to find ways to get her out of office.

She made an accusation that the other commissioners have “weaponized” the office staff against her.

Cantalamessa responded her conspiracy theories are unfounded, and she does not have evidence to back up her accusations.

Fredericka asked the commissioners to return to executive session to explain further Frenchko’s concerns.

She told Fredericka she was remaining in the commissioner’s meeting chambers while he spoke to the other commissioners during the executive session. She would return to the executive session, if needed.

Cantalamessa and Fuda returned to the closed-door discussion.

Later, after the executive session, Frenchko noted the county failed to turn over several reports because the person who had been doing those tasks had been off due to personal health concerns.

“It is why I sought to have county employees cross-trained into doing each other jobs,” Frenchko said.


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