Another secret

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Its-a-Secret-300x300The overarching rule of local government is that everything is a secret unless you can pry it out of them. I called Trumbull County Assistant Prosecuting  Attorney William Danso today, to follow up on TC Engineer Randy Smith’s request to be freed from the burden of assisting the TC Planning Commission in their efforts to spend taxpayer’s money efficiently. Smith had copied Danso on his letter to the County Commissioners announcing his intended session from the rest of Trumbull County government.

Mr. Danso was very pleasant, but informed me that he could not tell me what his response was to Mr. Smith, siting “attorney-client privilege.”

I was surprised at this response and asked if his response wasn’t public business that any citizen has the right to know. Danso suggested that I ask Mr. Smith, which I suspect would not be my most productive course of action. He also stated that legal ethics were of a “higher standard” than government business, which led me to remember a host of lawyer jokes.

Later I spoke to another elected official about Danso’s position, who said this was, at most, a short term set back, and that the information is certain to become public very soon. We’ll see. I’ll keep trying.

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“Double D” to the rescue

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13000253_BG1We hadn’t planned to make Randy Smith‘s hissy fit regarding the Trumbull County Planning Commission an ongoing series, but the situation just keeps getting weirder, the way that only Warren-Trumbull County politics can be. Smith is attempting to withdraw the county Engineer’s services to the Planning Commission and is trying to get the County Prosecutor’s office to give his ridiculous plan legitimacy.

Now, in steps former County Engineer David DeChristofaro. According to a recent Tribune article he is offering his services to the PC, free of charge, if Smith’s plan succeeds. The Tribune quotes him:

“DeChristofaro stated in an email to Nuskievicz that he “could not believe Randy Smith would even consider refusing to assist your office with engineering or surveying services needed for the good of the public.””

Of course DeChristofaro has had his own issues. Again, quoting the Tribune:

“Although the record of the conviction was expunged last year, DeChristofaro pleaded guilty to a charge of felony theft and misdemeanor conflict-of-interest in July 2011. He was accused of using materials from his county office to send thank-you cards and Christmas cards to Democratic precinct committee members.”

It looks like we’ll follow this for a while. There is no shortage of people volunteering other horror stories about Smith’s “management style” and his lack of concern for taxpayers priorities. We want to note that we’ve never met either Smith, DeChristofaro or Trish Nuskievicz the head of the Planning Commission. Our only interest is good government, and this is a stunning example of its antipode.

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Putting the people last

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Randy Smith letterBuilding and maintain our roads and sewer systems are among the most important tasks of the The County Engineers. Most people would agree that good planning is an essential component of doing that job well, so good relations between the Engineers and the Planning Commission would seem to be critical to providing the best service possible to the citizens of Trumbull County.

Randy Smith, the County Engineer, proudly lists his degrees after his signature. He’s worked for the County long enough to be drawing his pension plus his salary. So given his education and experience, one could reasonably expect someone like him to bring enough foresight and maturity to his work to find a way to make this relationship work.

Instead, take a look at the letter he wrote to the County Commissioners, pouting and bullying his way to ending any relationship between good planning and execution. We the people of Trumbull County are the losers in this petty, vindictive tantrum Smith is in the middle of throwing, and which lead to yesterday’s Tribune article (see yesterday’s WE post for the full transcript.)

We will follow up with Mr. William Danso in the Prosecutor’s office to get his response.

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What is wrong with this guy?

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randy-smithIt seems like every time you read about Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith, one of his employees is suing him for something, or he is being investigated for ethics violations, or he’s double-dipping. Today was a change of pace. It seems Smith informed the Trumbull County Commissioners this week that he will no longer provide professional services to members of the TC Planning Commission — because they ask too many questions. Apparently Randy doesn’t realize that the Planning Commission and his department are both parts of the County government, and that by withholding his help he is actually financially penalizing the citizens of Trumbull County and not the employees of the Planning Commission.

One rarely sees behavior this blatantly immature after the 8th grade. Smith’s self-serving, arrogance and vindictiveness make one wonder if he got his education in management and human relations from Trump University. He also sets the bar pretty high for passive-aggressiveness. According to Renee Fox’s excellent article in today’s Tribune, Smith never contacted the Planning Commission’s Executive Director Trish Nuskievicz prior to writing to the Commissioners. Rather, when she called him, he had one of his people send her an email saying “all future communications between them shall be in written form.”

And we’re paying this guy for this sort of nonsense. You may be asking yourself why the Commissioners don’t step in and stop his juvenile, playground war games, but thanks to the gift of statutory government left to us by our forefathers, the Engineer is independently elected and can do pretty much whatever he feels like doing.

The full Tribune article from this morning is reprinted below with their permission:

Engineer: No services to planners

Executive director shocked by decision

“We’ve always had a good relationship with representatives from the Engineer’s Office in the past. We’ve worked well together on various projects. It’s news to me,” said Trish Nuskievicz, executive director of the Trumbull County Planning Commission.

Smith notified Trumbull County commissioners Tuesday that he is seeking a legal opinion from the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office to see if his employees are allowed to stop providing services to the commission.

Nuskievicz said she and Smith never spoke or discussed issues or concerns Smith had with her office before asking for an opinion. When she called to speak with Smith after learning of the letter from the Tribune Chronicle, his office sent an email reply in response to her message.

“Based upon recent circumstances, all future communication between the planning commission and this office shall be in written form,” the email states.

Communication between the various county departments isn’t only a professional courtesy, but crucial to daily operations in the county, Nuskievicz said.

“So I don’t know why he has never reached out to me to discuss whatever issues he has had,”Nuskievicz said.

And, Nuskievicz said, Smith’s office isn’t providing its services to the planning commission, but to the county as a whole.

“We are all on the same team. If there is a responsibility of the planning commission, I fulfill it. If it is the responsibility of the engineer’s office, they provide those services. These are all county initiatives that require work from both of our offices,” Nuskievicz said.

Smith said he believes the Ohio Revised Code will allow him to end the services for the commission if providing them takes up too many resources and interferes with regular duties.

Smith said three issues are creating a burdensome relationship between the commission and his office — that his employees have to spend too much time educating commission employees on the information it is providing to them, that the two clashed heads over the interpretation of regulations for survey markers in a road for a new development, and that it took longer than it should have to get information from the commission Smith needed in a lawsuit.

Nuskievicz said an attorney representing Smith sent her a letter June 7 requesting information related to a lawsuit. In her response dated June 8, Nuskievicz attached the requested information and stated, “I would like to make note that this is the first public records request received that specifies documents being requested, so I had my secretary scan the majority of the file and have attached scans of those documents. There are some larger drawings and photos in the file, which I believe may have been taken by the county engineer’s office, if needed. The file here at the planning commission has always been open and available for review by the county engineer’s office and anyone else for that matter. We are in frequent communication with the engineer’s office, so I am not sure why they didn’t just come over and copy whatever information they need instead of involving outside counsel.”

The engineer’s office was seeking information about a performance bond issued in 2008 to the Sudheendra Family Limited Partnership for work done on Bennington Ridge in Howland.

The planning commission is never a bondholder, wasn’t a part of the lawsuit and did not inspect the projects, Nuskievicz stated in an email.

But, she had an employee scan everything from the file that would fit, Nuskievicz said.

“We are an open book, they or anyone else can come down and ask for information and we will accommodate them. Once they specified what they wanted, I responded immediately,”Nuskievicz said.

Smith’s other complaint — when his employees provide a service essential to a planning commission project it takes them too long to explain things to commission employees — is taking too much time away from his employees, who have an increased work load lately, he said.

“When we have time to do stuff we do. But everything is problematic with them and it is taking more time and energy than we have,” Smith said. “They had a very professional surveyor and now they don’t have one on staff. It requires more time from our offices to educate them about the information that we are giving them. And the effort seems unproductive.”

Nuskievicz said she is doing more with less and has three positions that need to be filled, but defended the quality of the employees she has on staff.

Nuskievicz said Smith’s third issue — a disagreement earlier this year about the interpretation of subregulations regarding the placement of survey markers — was a miscommunication that could have been resolved more quickly if there had been more communication between the offices.

“There is nothing that can’t be worked out between two county departments for the betterment of Trumbull County, but you actually have to pick up the phone,” Nuskievicz said.

Smith said he does not know if his office could charge the planning commission for its work — which includes plat reviews, field inspections and providing information on anything involving drainage and roads.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said if Smith receives an opinion stating he doesn’t have to continue providing services, the commissioners won’t be able to stop him because Smith is an elected official.

The county would have to pay for all of the surveying and engineering issues the commission deals with — at a time when the commissioners are searching for ways to deal projected budget difficulties, Cantalamessa said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

 

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My letter to the Tribune today

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The Tribune published the following today:

Priorities for Warren’s future

JUNE 25, 2017

In coming together to develop a plan for the Fund for Warren’s Future, or FWF, Mayor Doug Franklin and I have two goals to achieve. The first is to increase the city’s economic development activities, but of equal importance is the goal of bringing the entire city together in a common effort.

Because that second goal is so important, I am writing to correct a misconception some people have as a result of reading your June 19th article reporting on our June 15th presentation to City Council.

The list of potential projects the fund might support, which we distributed publicly at that meeting, is intended only to offer examples of projects appropriate for FWF funding.

Before any project is funded, we will have public meetings at which any Warren resident will be welcome to suggest ideas. We also will meet with representatives of as many neighborhood and community groups as possible to get their input. Only then would the FWF board of directors, which does not yet exist, select projects for funding.

We want the priorities of the FWF to be the priorities of the community, and we believe that if Mayor Franklin and I can set aside our political differences and find common ground for the good of Warren, that everyone should be able to do the same. Mayor Franklin and I are both committed to listening to anyone who has something to say about the city’s future.

DENNIS BLANK

Warren

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