Outcome proves we must rethink administrator job

It was less than five months ago that Trumbull County Commissioners Dan Polivka and Mauro Cantalamessa voted to create a three-faceted county administrative management position to fill management roles that we have argued should be done by the commissioners themselves.

Their fellow commissioner, Frank Fuda, who disagreed with the new job creation, voted no earlier this year on the hiring of Rebecca Gerson, chosen by his colleagues to fill the new post. Fuda maintained that the three top-level county jobs — county administrator, county purchasing director and county transit administrator — were simply too much for one person to handle. We agreed.

Yet on April 9, Gerson, the former Youngstown Deputy Law Director, began her new duties as Trumbull County administrator / purchasing director and Trumbull County transit administrator.

Then last week, she resigned abruptly, leaving without even fulfilling the two-week notice she initially gave. Gerson was guarded in her conversations with us about her reasons for leaving, saying simply that she was heading back into private law practice. The quick and unexpected departure has left the commissioners scrambling to fill voids. They’ve appointed Richard Jackson, Trumbull County’s director of human resources, as interim administrator for now. He’ll want additional pay to do the job, and that’s expected to be negotiated.

Commissioners also have Jackson calling job applicants who previously applied for the transit administrator position so that he can gauge any remaining interest. In the interim, James Misocky, the county’s special projects manager, will serve as point person for the transit board until someone is hired. Expertise is needed in that role in order to keep the transit system in compliance with Federal Transit Administration guidelines and grant funding rules.

Through all of this, Fuda maintains Gerson’s quick turnaround is because the job requirements were unreasonable.

Polivka and Cantalamessa had argued at the time of Gerson’s hiring that county savings generated through her duties as purchasing director would more than pay for her $85,000 annual salary. Since the April hiring, Gerson has collected $35,689 in salary, not including the thousands of additional dollars paid by taxpayers for her health care coverage, pension and other benefits. Plus, she has another 10 days of pay coming to her.

Last week Cantalamessa declined to say whether their expectations in cost savings were being met, commenting instead that he now believes Gerson’s five months on the job wasn’t enough time to assess that. We think that means any savings simply haven’t been significant enough to justify the position’s creation.

Meanwhile, Jackson explains that he sees the role of administrator as a “funnel” running operations between the departments and the commissioners, “so commissioners are not dragged into every little thing.”

But what is being overlooked is that each commissioner is elected to oversee operations in the county. That is their job. And each is paid a full-time salary of about $85,000 a year. We suggest if they each work a full eight-hour day, 40-hour week schedule and divide the duties, they could easily handle the issues that need to be managed. Necessary discussions requiring decisions from all three commissioners should be held during the weekly public meetings.

Commissioners say they aren’t sure if they should try again to fill the post. We think the decision is clear.

Commissioners must reconsider the need for this job.