WARREN — Two Trumbull County commissioners with a history of bad blood continue to have disagreements.
The latest controversy involves operations at the Geauga Trumbull Solid Waste Management District. The board that manages the district is composed of the three commissioners from Trumbull County and the three commissioners from Geauga County.
The district has been contemplating building a collection facility in Geauga County to make it easier for residents there to recycle household hazardous waste, electronics and appliances, so they don’t have to drive to the Enterprise Drive facility in northwest Warren.
The district is in the middle of getting a third set of drawings for the facility after working to reduce the cost by throwing out more expensive ones.
Initial estimates called for a $2.2 million facility, but the board is seeking a cheaper design and is planning to readvertise for bids after initial bids came back too expensive.
Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda is against building a facility in Geauga County, but the three Geauga commissioners are for it. Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka supports building the facility, too, and so does Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa, if the costs can be kept down, he said at a recent meeting.
The meeting last week at the district devolved into unintelligible arguing between Fuda and Polivka, several times.
Fuda accused Polivka of siding with the Geauga commissioners because Polivka owes them favors for siding with him on previous issues, while Polivka said it is only fair to Geauga County because it is part of the district. Geauga County Commissioner Tim Lennon said the county is donating land for the building, which is reducing costs. And Polivka mentioned how much of the district operations center on Trumbull County, where most of the employees live, and where the district’s building and collection facility is.
Polivka said the two counties have been partnered for 28 years with the focus mainly on Trumbull County services, and with $5.5 million in the bank and the construction of the building in the district’s written plans, constructing it is affordable and deserved.
Polivka said Geauga County only has the drop-off recycling sites, and it would be fair for the members of the district to benefit from the fees that fund the district — paid when companies take truckloads of trash to the dump. Fuda said Trumbull County is twice as big as Geauga County and the facility was built where it was to make it convenient for Geauga County residents to get to because it really isn’t centrally located for many Trumbull County residents. Fuda wants to explore splitting the district, but the process is long and complicated.
The Geauga commissioners came to the meeting Wednesday in Warren, while Fuda, Polivka and Cantalamessa joined by telephone because the meeting they had before it ran long. Because the three of them were on the phone, and Polivka and Fuda often raised their voices and talked over one another, it was difficult to hear them.
The two also argued about a recent contract for marketing services.
Before solid waste district Director Jennifer Jones was hired in September and took over social media for the district, a special projects coordinator was hired for the duty. Before Jones was hired, the board decided to reach out to media companies to create marketing materials. Although a company was selected after a bid process, the company went out of business before completing the task.
In the following weeks and months, there was turmoil in the executive director’s office. After allegations the director appointed in February 2017 created a hostile work environment, he went on sick leave and then retired in May 2019. An interim director was selected, but quit soon after.
Polivka, who was the chairman of the district’s board at the time, became acting director. Jones accepted the job in August and started Sept. 23.
About a week before Jones started, Polivka went to J. Saul Campbell and Company and told the owner, Jennifer Saul Campbell, that the marketing contract she also had bid on fell through with the other company and asked her to take the contract at $50 per hour for up to $10,000. She was to work on marketing materials, including a newsletter, to help inform Geauga County residents of what services the district offers.
Fuda said he and other board members were unaware Polivka made the call himself to hire the company. Fuda questions Polivka’s authority to make the decision on his own, while Polivka contends he was the acting director and so he had the authority.
In the end, Jones decided not to pursue a newsletter because of the expense. The Geuaga commissioners decided to go with a more county-angled informational piece, Campbell said.
During that time, Campbell also worked on news releases and started getting material ready for the newsletter, working with Jones. The company also created fliers and tri-fold brochures advertising information about the center, along with images for social media posts. She wasn’t paid from the $10,000 purchase order for the work her firm did.
The district’s full board did not discuss hiring the company until Nov. 26, when Campbell presented a marketing proposal.
The proposal included $2,500 for social media management, offered services for website updating and development, $2,000 to design marketing materials, $15,000 to print and send promotional materials, $2,500 for event management and promotion, and assistance with cultivating community relationships.
During that meeting, the discussion moved away from producing newsletters and moved toward asking Campbell to work with the special projects coordinator to improve social media outreach.
A motion was made to hire the company for up to $2,500 at $50 per hour to work on the district’s social media presence and to teach the special projects coordinator more about using features on sites like Facebook to increase the district’s reach. All three Geauga County commissioners voted “yes” while Fuda and Cantalamessa voted “no.” Fuda and Cantalamessa said they thought the district should be handling social media in-house, especially because they hired the special projects coordinator to handle it. Polivka abstained from the vote, even though he hired her independently a few months before.
Polivka said he abstained from the vote because he may use J. Saul Campbell and Company for future campaign work, either for his own political campaign or for the Trumbull County Democratic Party, of which he is the chairman.
Fuda questioned why Polivka would abstain from the vote, but felt he was able unilaterally to hire the company a few months before, especially because the company worked on Polivka’s campaigns and for the party in the past.
“That’s a conflict of interest,” Fuda said.
It should have been rebid or more proposals should have been sought, Fuda said.
Polivka contends he did nothing out of the ordinary and nothing unethical.
Campbell said the last time she worked for Polivka directly was for his county commissioner re-election campaign in 2016, and the last time she worked for the party was in 2018.
Campbell submitted an invoice in March for $3,435 for work done between September and December — including social media development and management, graphic design services, copywriting, developing marketing and promotional materials, drafting press releases, time spent on meetings and newsletter concept development.
The invoice went unpaid. In May, the company submitted another for the same amount, a late notice. That went unpaid. Later in May, she submitted one for a reduced price of $2,500. That also has not been paid.
The feud between Polivka and Fuda isn’t new. When Fuda ran for re-election in 2018, the Polivka-led Trumbull County Democratic Party sided with his primary opponent. The two collided on Trumbull County Transit issues, on hiring issues, county contracts and over who should get credit for certain accomplishments.
The two also clashed over the former director of the waste district. Fuda argued Polivka was trying to protect the director amid serious allegations of poor management. Fuda claims the Geauga commissioners voted not to release the investigatory report about the former director because it doesn’t look good for Polivka, and now Polivka owes them a favor. Polivka denies the allegations.
The Geauga County commissioners said they voted not to release the report on the advice of legal counsel, not because of any deal with Polivka. The report still has not been released.