Gagged

Share

man-with-mouth-taped-shutThese are the key players in the current Valley View fuel tanker controversy:

Mayor Doug Franklin

Director of Public Safety & Service Enzo Cantamalessa

Capt. Bill Smith, Fire Inspector, Warren Fire Department

We now have two strikingly different stories from them as to the events that transpired. Both versions cannot be true; someone is lying. Here is a summary of their positions:

Capt. Smith’s version is by far the most complete; it consists of more than 20 pages of detailed written notes which he submitted over 4-1/2 months as a part of the official public record. If you believe these records, Doug and Enzo both impeded the investigation, and in doing so, endangered the public.

Mayor Franklin is hiding from reporters. We have no response from him.

Enzo has spoken and says he did nothing to impede the fire department or to endanger the public. (Also see Tribune article reprinted below.)

Further conversation with Capt. Smith would be interesting, and necessary to reconcile the stories, but Enzo has ordered Captain Smith not to speak about the situation publicly. Smith has been gagged.

There are situations where preventing a public employee from speaking publicly is justified. For example, if someone lacks the technical knowledge, or the specific situational knowledge to speak accurately about a given issue. One might also bar a public employee from speaking publicly when information might be revealed that could harm an innocent party who is not central to the situation.

These are clearly not those circumstances. Capt. Smith is the single most knowledgeable party in this sordid affair, and the only people who might be hurt by him speaking are his bosses at City Hall — Doug and Enzo.

By denying he said what Capt. Smith quotes him as saying in his inspection reports, Enzo is essentially calling Smith a liar, and then using his power as Director of Public Safety and Service to keep Smith from defending himself.

First Doug and Enzo abused their power by preventing the WFD from doing its job and now they are abusing their power in order to cover up the story.

Mayor Franklin compounds these problems by refusing to answer questions, which further  undermines our first responders, rather than supporting them. Leadership is accountable and I will not hide from you as mayor.

If this all makes you as angry as it makes me I suggest you write to the Tribune and make your voice heard. Or call your city councilperson and demand that Capt. Smith be allowed to speak.

Jefferson said we get the government we deserve. I think we deserve better.

I know we can do better.

 

The following is reprinted with permission from the Warren Tribune Chronicle:

Illegally parked fuel trucks are issue

September 3, 2015
By RAYMOND L. SMITH – Tribune Chronicle (rsmith@tribtoday.comTribune Chronicle

WARREN – Mayoral candidate Dennis Blank said city officials endangered residents when they ordered fire inspectors to delay citing a local businessman who repeatedly parked a fuel tanker truck near a residential neighborhood.

But Warren Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa maintains he intended only to give the business owner a chance to rectify the situation without potentially costing him thousands of dollars.

Instead though, the incident dragged on for months, with fuel trucks being parked at the location on numerous occasions as recently as last month, Blank said.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith
Warren resident and Valley View gas station owner Ashrof Isaac stands next to video feed from several of his stores. He has businesses in four states. He said he responded to requests from Warren officials to move his tanker trucks from the parking lot each time he was notified.

Documents provided by city administrators on Wednesday and outlined on a website operated by Blank indicate it was April when Warren Fire Capt. William Smith first noticed the Valley View fuel truck parked on property along Elm Road in the city, a violation of Ohio laws that say fuel trucks may be left unattended in residential areas for no more than an hour.

According to the documents, Smith contacted Ashrof Isaac, owner of Valley View, 1860 Elm Road, about removing the vehicle. Blank reported on his online blog that Smith had told Blank he intended to cite the business, and resulting fines could have reached up to $1,000 a day. Instead, however, Smith said he was ordered by his superiors to hold off in order to give Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa and Fire Chief Ken Nussle an opportunity to talk to the business owner in an attempt to resolve the issue.

“Our goal was not to chase a new business away with citations and fines,” Cantalamessa said. “We wanted to see if we could address the problem without it getting to that point. I was told he would move the trucks.”

But on May 12, Smith again noted two fuel trucks were back at the property.

“I strongly suggested to Enzo that a fire department citation may need to be issued to put a definite end date to this continuing fire code violation and assign fines for this violation and any time subsequent to this day,” Smith wrote in his file. “Enzo stated that he would speak directly to Mr. Isaac, and, in absence of a definite plan on Mr. Isaac’s part to abate this violation, he agreed a citation would be the necessary next step to gain fire code compliance.”

Cantalamessa said he once again talked to the business owner and was told the trucks would no longer be there.

“That was the last I heard about this, until last week when a record request was filed with the fire department,” Cantalamessa said.

That public record request came from Blank.

However, according to Smith’s file, he saw either one or two of the fuel trucks at the Elm Road site at least five times from May 2 through June 5, but was unsuccessful in getting the law department or the safety service director to address the situation. Smith, in his notes, said he was forbidden to issue citations against the business.

He also noted he suggested having the business park their vehicles at the waste water facility, since it is far from a residential area.

Smith noted he mentioned his concerns to Mayor Doug Franklin when he saw him in June. Franklin, Cantalamessa noted, called Isaac that day.

Between June 11 and Aug.7, Smith noted 10 different occasions when he noticed one of more of the tankers in the parking lot. In each report, Smith noted he had been forbidden by Cantalamessa from issuing a fire department citation for violation of the Ohio Fire Code.

On Aug. 7, 13 and 25, Smith issued violations against Valley View for parking gasoline tanker trucks on the property.

Fire Chief Nussle said he was aware of the initial recommendation, but was not contacted again until late August. He was unaware of the file that Smith had been maintaining on his computer.

Smith was not able to speak to the media Wednesday by orders of the administration.

Blank, an independent candidate, will face off against Franklin in the November general election.

He began raising questions in recent weeks about this issue on an online blog he operates, including frustrations with the city’s slow response to his public records request for documents related to the issue.

“These are public records,” Blank said Wednesday. “They are written documents that should have been made available. It is an abuse of power. It is compounded by the fact that the administration did not do what the fire inspector had recommended. They compounded the problem instead of correcting it.”

“What if there had been an explosion,” Blank continued. “The city’s insurance carrier would have dropped it immediately if it would have found the city did not allow the fire inspector to cite the company.”

Kevin Miles, a resident who lives near 1860 Elm Road said he began noticing the tanker trucks sometime in June and July, and contacted the city fire department about it last month.

“I have young children,” Miles said. “I worry about what an explosion would do. It would take out this whole block.”

Contacted Wednesday at his business, Isaac, a longtime area entrepreneur who operates gas and retail businesses in four states, saw the situation differently. Isaac denied breaking the law and said he did not leave the trucks unattended for long periods. He maintains each time he was contacted by Cantalamessa, he had the trucks moved.

“My employees would come here during their shift changes to drop off or fill out paperwork,” Isaac said, noting the tankers in question were empty.

Isaac said he lives in Warren and decided to move his company’s headquarters to the city.

“I have not broken the law,” he said. “I do not know why this Blank would want to hurt a businessman who is bringing jobs into the area.”

Blank said he attempted to tell Isaac that his concern was less with him, than with the administration’s lack of action

 

Comments Off

Does your safety matter?

Share

Tanker-Fire-2I’ve spent a lot of time over the past four years, unsuccessfully, trying to figure out what Doug and Enzo’s priorities are. As we’ve seen clearly recently, our city’s parks do not make the cut, nor does the safety of school children. We also know that the general appearance of the city is considered secondary.

Now we have stark evidence that the safety of the community does not rise to the level of actionable importance to them either.

We know this because a local business has been parking their 9000 gallon gasoline tanker in a residential neighborhood for nearly five months, and not only have Doug and Enzo taken no action to stop the practice, they have actively intervened, on multiple occasions, to stop the Warren Fire Department from enforcing the Ohio Fire Codes.

We know this for fact because we have received more than 20 documents from the WFD including “Fire Safety Inspection” reports, “Violation Notices” and file notes related to the offices of Valley View Petroleum located at 1860 Elm Road in Warren.

These reports show that on April 12, 2015 Capt. William Smith of the WFD wrote in his inspection report of that day that parking the gasoline tanker violated multiple Ohio Fire Codes. Capt. Smith further informed an employee at that location that the owner should contact him a.s.a.p., and the tanker should be moved that day.

The owner did not call Capt. Smith, but he did call Mayor Franklin, who called Capt. Smith, which was the first step in a lengthy process in which Capt. Smith was eventually told by Director of Public Safety and Service, Enzo Cantalamessa, to wait until he and Mayor Franklin could meet with the owner and negotiate a settlement.

At the end of this post is a chronological summary of the citations and notes covering the situation. What it shows is that Doug and Enzo repeatedly either intervened to slow the WFD from taking legal action to correct a dangerous situation, or failed to do anything to correct it themselves.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic about the danger level of this situation, Google map 1860 Elm Road and see for yourself how close the rear parking lot is to the homes on Tiffany and Nocturne, and then watch this video.

And if you don’t live near there and think it isn’t your problem, consider the words of former Mayor and current Councilman-at-Large Dan Sferra, who told me, “In my wildest imagination I can’t imagine ever stopping a fire inspector from doing his job. If one of those trucks had exploded, not only might it have been a human tragedy, the city would have been sued into bankruptcy. Most likely our insurance company would have refused to pay because of the negligence.

A secondary issue that I will deal with in a separate post, relates to the manner in which the city responded to my public records request. Their first response was very clearly a failure; many documents were left out and at least one was redacted without noting that fact.

I believe the only reason they finally responded in full was that they knew that Captain Smith of the Warren Fire Department supplied me with a full set of documents despite attempts by the administration to stop him. Capt. Smith ignored what he believed was an illegal order to withhold public information.

Everyone in the city of Warren owes Capt. Smith a huge debt of gratitude for having the courage to stand up and insist that public safety takes precedence over politics, and to obey the Sunshine laws; to have done otherwise would have put the city in additional legal jeopardy.

Read the timeline below and draw your own conclusion about who was served here. You can also download a PDF of the document: WFD report rcvd Aug31. (They are not in date order. This is how I received them.) I have added a few notes regarding my own involvement to abstracts I created from the file notes.

April 12: First inspection report indicating the tanker could not be parked there. Captain Smith told an employee the truck should be moved that day. He asked the business owner to call him; he did not, but Mayor Franklin called Capt. Smith later that day to inquire about the circumstances.

April 13Capt. Hukari of WFD met with Dave Lake of the Warren Law Department to discuss the situation

April 20: Dennis Blank hears Howland Police Chief Monroe talk at NENA about the VV tankers parked now in Warren.

April 27: Two fuel tankers still on site. Capt. Smith meets with Attorney Lake. They decide to issue citations carrying $1000 fine per occurrence. Director Cantalamessa asks them to wait, saying he will schedule a meeting with the business owner, Abe Isaac and Mayor Franklin to resolve the issue through negotiation. Cantalamessa says he will keep the WFD informed.

April 30: Capt. Smith sees two tankers on site again. Is finally able to talk to owner Isaac. Smith stresses the urgency of moving the trucks immediately. Smith confers again with Cantalamessa who again asked him not to issue a citation or fine pending the outcome of a meeting with Isaac and Mayor Franklin.

May 6Capt. Smith speaks with owner Isaac who tells him he met with Doug and Enzo and a solution is “forthcoming.” Smith contacts Enzo who says a solution is near.

May 12: The tankers are still there. Smith calls Enzo who promises to speak to Isaac and call Smith back. He does not call back by the end of the day as promised. Smith sees tanker unloading fuel that evening and gives the driver his card, asking him to have the owner call him; he does not.

May 13Capt. Smith speaks to Attorney Lake of the Warren Law Department again, who tells Smith he has spoken to Enzo who has asked him not to issue, or allow the WFD to issue, a citation of any kind to Isaac pending City Hall’s negotiations with him. There is no timeline for reaching compliance.

May 15Capt. Smith calls Cantalamessa and leaves a message with his secretary. Enzo does not call back. Smith emails Enzo with a suggested location on city owned property where the tankers could be parked safely until a permanent location is found. Smith does not receive a response.

May 30: The tankers are both at the 1860 Elm Road location as they were on May 27th.

June 2: One tanker seen at the premises that morning.

June 5: Two tankers were on site. Capt. Smith speaks to Mayor Franklin at the African American Festival that afternoon and reminds him that this continues to be a serious situation. Franklin promises to call Isaac that day and tell him to stop parking there.

June 11: Two tankers still on site that morning. If the Mayor called Isaac it didn’t work.

June 17: One tanker there, unattended and unsecured.

June 29: One tanker there, unattended and unsecured.

July 2: Two tankers there, unattended and unsecured.

July 8: Two tankers there, unattended and unsecured.

July 14: Two tankers there, unattended and unsecured.

July 20: One tanker there, unattended and unsecured.

July 23: Two tankers there, unattended and unsecured.

July 29: Two tankers there, unattended and unsecured. Capt. Smith speaks with WFD Chief Nussle about the situation; Nussle advises Smith to exercise patience.

August 7: One tanker there, unattended and unsecured. Capt. Smith again speaks with WFD Chief Nussle about the situation; Nussle, again, advises Smith to exercise patience.

August 10: Another citation issued.

August 13: Another citation issued.

August 23:  While out election canvassing, Blank learns from residents on Tiffany Dr that tankers are still parked there regularly.

Aug 24: Dennis Blank makes a verbal request for copies of all citations issued to Valley View to Chief Nussle of WFD. The Chief says he will have to check with Enzo Cantalamessa.

August 25: Another citation issued.

August 26: Blank goes to WFD and speaks to Nussle who tells him Cantalamessa has told him that the request is being reviewed by the Warren Law Department. Blank sees Law Director Hicks later that day and asks for a status on the request. Hicks tells Blank there are no documents such as those requested. Blank then writes and hand delivers a formal written request to WFD.

August 28: Blank receives only four of the more than 20 documents in the Valley View file. Blank then writes and delivers a second, broader document request to the WFD.

August 31: Another citation issued. Blank calls Cantalamessa/Franklin office at 2:00 pm asking if more documents are coming. Secretary Hathhorn says she does not know but will find out and call him back. She does not call back. Blank calls Capt. Smith late that afternoon and tells him he received only 4 documents in response to his document request. Capt. Smith tells Blank there are “many more” and invites him to the WFD office where he provides copies of the complete file. Ms. Hathhorn emails a new set of documents which arrive at 8:00 pm.

Comments Off

Janet responds

Share

DSCN1237There is a letter in today’s Tribune chastising Janet Hazette for her letter in last Sunday’s Trib asking why the city has not repainted the crosswalks near Warren’s schools. The letter claims it was a coincidence that the city did the painting the day after her letter appeared — that it was always their plan to do it the day before school started. Janet responded on Facebook today and I felt her points were worth reprinting here:

My rebuttal to the rebuttal. In Sunday’s Tribune the Operations Director responded to my letter about the lack of painted crosswalks and warning the schools. Their plan was do the painting the week school started. Yeah that is what he said. As others have posted, doing it the first week of school is disruptive and dangerous. That is why it used to be done the first weeks in August. If doing it the first week of school is your plan you need to rethink it. And if I were the Board of Education and school principles I would demand it. Also even though I am a union supporter in all of my 30 years as was never in a union. So I am not sure if I have a right to call them my brothers and sisters. Frank has been around long enough to know this. Makes me wonder if he wrote the letter.”

By the way, they still haven’t cleaned up the grit at Elm and Atlantic.

Comments Off

Warning

Share

get_off_my_lawn_you_durn_whippersnapperOver the past few weeks I’ve gotten into the habit of checking to see if the Valley View tanker is parked behind their offices in the evening, so last night after watching the Harding game and grabbing some dinner at the BV, a buddy and I swung by there to take a look around 10:30. As usual, I pulled into the lot and drove to the back, but the tanker was not there.

Not so usual — there was a light on in the office, and as I made a wide turn to leave, two men came running out of the building screaming obscenities (I’m pretty sure they weren’t telling us to get of their lawn) and waving their arms at us. I believe one of them had something in his hand but we didn’t stick around to find out. I don’t want to exaggerate or sensationalize the event; I only mention it as a suggestion that you not let your own curiosity motivate you to make a similar detour into the VV parking lot. I’m confident now that the WFD is not going to let this situation continue. Let’s leave it to the professionals.

And for those of you who feel the need to scold — yes, I know I was trespassing, and no mom, I won’t do it again. Driving the “Mayormobile” on my little scouting mission was also probably not the smartest move on my part.

Comments Off

The city responds

Share

WFD reort rcvd Aug28WFD reort rcvd Aug28IMG_0825This morning I received a response to my written document request regarding the fuel truck parked at 1860 Elm Road. It was in the form of an email from “Rachel E. Hathhorn, Executive Secretary II to Mayor William D. Franklin and Director of Public Safety & Service Enzo C. Cantalamessa.” The email read in full: “Per your request, please see attached.” Attached was a tif file which is a photo of four reports written by the Warren Fire Department (WFD). You can view it here: WFD report rcvd Aug28

What it shows is that a “Fire Safety Inspection” performed by the WFD on April 12, 2015 noted the violation of having a gasoline tanker truck parked in the Valley View Petroleum parking lot, within 500′ of a residential area. There are also three “Violation Notices” dated August 7th, 13th and 25th of 2015 noting that the truck was parked too close to a residential area and was parked there for more than one hour. I personally observed it still parked there around 9 PM on August 26th – 2 days ago.

I have expanded my document request to include memos, file notes and emails; I expect a response early next week and then perhaps we will know the answer to this question: Why, after the Valley View truck was chased from Howland by their fire department, and repeatedly cited by the WFD for the past four months, it continues to be parked in such an obviously dangerous place. I will continue to pursue the answer.

Written by: Dennis Blank for Mayor

Comments Off