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Admit error, drop appeal plan, move on

Ernie Cook, the former Trumbull County 911 Center director fired last month after being convicted of charges stemming from his vehicle collision with a skateboarder while he was under the influence near his Brookfield home, has sent notice that he intends to appeal his termination.

Here’s our suggestion to him: let it go and move on.

Trumbull County Commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa and Niki Frenchko voted 2-0 Jan. 21 to fire Cook from the position he has held since 2010. Commissioner Frank Fuda left the lengthy meeting before the vote was taken but also supported the measure by telephone conference.

Commissioners have not publicly outlined specific reasons for terminating Cook, but the decision came shortly after he pleaded no contest in Trumbull County Eastern District Court to loss of physical control under the influence, a first-degree misdemeanor; and failure to report an accident, a minor misdemeanor.

Now, Cook has filed notice with the State Personnel Board of Review stating that he intends to appeal the firing. Because it is an initial filing of the intention to appeal, documents lack specific arguments about Cook’s objection to his firing. When asked, Cook declined to comment further on the points he intends to argue in the appeal process.

Last week, commissioners voted to retain outside legal counsel to defend their action in the appeal. They approved spending up to $10,000 on the case since the Trumbull County prosecutor’s office cannot handle the case due to the conflict of interest.

The notice commissioners received from the SPBR states the board “may” set the matter for a hearing after “initial correspondence has been completed,” at the board’s discretion. If a hearing is deemed necessary, commissioners will be given a 30-day notice, the letter states.

Cook was accused of colliding in 2018 with a 17-year-old skateboarder on Crestwood Drive and not stopping after the collision, the Ohio State Highway Patrol report states. Cook was given a suspended 180-day jail term; a $1,000 fine, of which $500 was suspended; and placed on probation for six months. On the second charge, he was fined $150, plus $45 in court costs.

As the director of 911, the agency on the front line in taking emergency calls for help and dispatching first responders, one would think Cook should have understood the seriousness of the charge and how much worse this could have been.

Further, Cook previously served as police chief in Brookfield and Vienna townships and as chief deputy with the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office. Shouldn’t he have been willing to set a better example?

Instead, however, he expressed shock at his firing. He told our reporter he had never faced disciplinary action in two decades of county employment, and said he had not been giving an opportunity to defend himself to commissioners before his firing.

While we do believe he should have been afforded that opportunity, at the end of the day, we believe it is time for Cook to move on.

We encourage Cook to acknowledge his mistake, be grateful that no one was more seriously injured and drop his planned appeal.

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