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Frenchko must be able to conduct public business

Trumbull County Commissioner Niki Frenchko, the target of a temporary Civil Protection Order filed by the commissioners clerk, attempted this week to postpone regular county board meetings or have someone else fill in for the clerk who filed the protection order.

We believe a better solution exists, and, for the good of the county, it needs to be found quickly.

Visiting Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove, a retired jurist from Summit County, granted the order against Frenchko on Friday following a request by commissioners clerk Paula Vivoda-Klotz. Temporary CPOs are issued before any evidentiary hearings are held. The hearing for a permanent protection order is set for Jan. 19 before Cosgrove at the county courthouse.

Following the judge’s temporary order, Frenchko missed two regular meetings this week. After missing the first meeting on Tuesday morning, a weekly commissioners workshop meeting, Frenchko requested that her fellow commissioners reschedule Wednesday’s meeting or move it to a location away from the office and that an assistant clerk be assigned to attend the meeting so she could avoid coming in contact with Vivoda-Klotz.

According to the civil stalking protection order, Frenchko must stay more than 25 feet away from Vivoda-Klotz — but in the commissioners’ regular meeting space, the two typically sit within a few feet of each other at the front of the room.

In seeking the protection order, Vivoda-Klotz stated she and Frenchko were involved in verbal disputes in the county commissioners office and that Frenchko has harassed her. The legal action came in the wake of a sheriff’s report filed last week after a sheriff’s deputy was called to the office following an incident involving Frenchko and Vivoda-Klotz.

Frenchko denies any wrongdoing and said, “These actions are predicated on written lies by insubordinate staff who are working in concert with establishment politicians to prevent me from carrying out my duties. These political shenanigans are stifling the wishes of over 50,000 voters who trust me be their voice of reason, improvement and transparency in the Trumbull County swamp.”

Frenchko, represented by attorney Justin Markota of Canfield, on Tuesday afternoon filed a motion requesting the judge to terminate or modify the temporary CPO because, as it is, the order denies her the ability to carry out her elected duties as commissioner. The motion also disputes the allegations and states the upcoming hearing is not scheduled within the 10-day window required by law.

Frenchko’s colleagues, Trumbull County Commissioners Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa, chose not to reschedule Wednesday’s meeting, despite her request. Fuda told our reporter that postponing or moving the commissioners meeting “makes no sense.”

Cantalamessa said, “These are things Mrs. Frenchko should have concerned herself with before trying to intimidate and harass an employee.”

The two regularly disagree with Frenchko in often heated arguments.

The fact is, Frenchko has been elected to represent the constituency. She should not be denied the ability to represent her constituents via participation in public discussion or voting on matters of public interest.

In her email to Cantalamessa, Frenchko said, “Moving the location at this time and changing the staff is the only way I can participate until the existing temporary order is vacated.”

But we believe there are other ways that this can be resolved without violating the protection order. Violation of the order is a crime, punishable by incarceration, fine or both.

Until this matter is resolved, we call on Frenchko to do much of her work serving the public from remote locations outside the office. Indeed, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has proven that much office work can be handled virtually.

We realize, of course, that public business must be conducted in the public spectrum. We do not endorse rescheduling these meetings from the regular and previously established schedule. Rather, we propose that an assistant clerk be appointed to participate in these public meetings, thereby allowing Frenchko to participate and vote in person, according to her statutory duty.

If that is not possible, then alternately, we suggest that Vivoda-Klotz participate in the public meetings virtually from a remote location.

These recommendations come not as punishment to anyone. Frankly, at this point, no wrongdoing has been proven.

To be clear, though, the claims made by Vivoda-Klotz are serious accusations.

But so, too, is the job of carrying out the public business of Trumbull County residents.

We believe by following the recommendations we offer, the temporary protection order can be honored and all parties — including the local taxpayers — can be served.

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