Warren – During a Wednesday meeting of the Trumbull County Council of Governments, the new county commissioner questioned the choice of attorney the public agency is using.
The Government Council (COG) was founded in 2018 and consists of many district communities. The municipalities, towns and villages pay a small fee to join the COG and can apply for projects that use the shared resources of the group members. So far, the projects have mostly involved demolition using the staff and equipment of the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, for which the municipality reimburses the engineering office through the COG. The COG is also working on a joint program to test fire extinguishers for safety and effectiveness at participating fire departments.
Warren attorney Jeff Goodman was selected to serve as the COG’s attorney, a position required by state law, and assisted in drafting the COG’s constitutional documents and bylaws.
Goodman holds other legal positions in the community, including Trumbull County’s Democratic Party MP, Trumbull County’s Common Pleas Court attorney, and under County Engineer Randy Smith in the county’s Freeway Division, where he handles personnel issues. Smith uses the prosecutor’s office for other legal work.
While Goodman could bill the COG for the services he provided, he did not, said James LaPolla, Howland trustee and chairman of the COG, except for some work his secretary did and some postage and papers. Goodman said he volunteers for the COG because he believes in the COG’s mission to serve churches.
Commissioner Niki Frenchko said she had some problems with Goodman.
She said she believed there was a conflict for him to act as an attorney for the engineering firm and the COG. On the one hand, Goodman volunteers his time to provide legal services, on the other hand, he is supposed to give work to the engineering company that employs him, Frenchko said.
Smith said Goodman was not working on legal issues related to COG for him.
Goodman said he takes conflicts of interest seriously and doesn’t think there is one. He resigned from the board when a conflict arose with another board he was a member of, the county mental health and recovery board. County Commissioners accepted the resignation on Wednesday. Goodman said he bought a building where one of the board’s vendors is a tenant.
Frenchko said Goodman neglected a record request she made to the COG in November. When he partially replied to the request in late December, he sent it to her friend’s house in Mentor instead of providing it directly to her. During Frenchko’s campaign against Trumbull District Democratic Party leader Dan Polivka, the former district commissioner she ousted in November and who was a political ally of Goodman, Frenchko faced challenges regarding her living conditions between her Warren and home homes that of her friend in mentor. She prevailed on these questions.
Frenchko asked for some documents in early November and others on November 16. She requested the COG’s authoritative documents, Policy and Procedures Manual, 2018-2020 contracts and conflict of interest statements, according to an email with COG officials Frenchko forwarded.
Goodman said he mailed the bylaws and bylaws of the board of directors to Mentor in a letter dated December 29, and to the best of his knowledge this was all it asked for and anything he did not post was not in his possession like conflict of interest statements because they don’t have them. He didn’t know she was applying for contracts.
LaPolla said he believed there was miscommunication. It took a while to complete the request because they waited for her to be commissioner, he said. The tax officer responded to part of the request, thinking she’d got it all done, but she might not have understood what Frenchko meant by contracts, LaPolla said, noting that he thought everything was upside down.
Frenchko said she wanted the information to familiarize herself with the COG’s operations once she took office, but the delays have stopped her and now led her to question the commitment to transparency.
Frenchko said she felt it was inappropriate for the COG to have no declarations of conflict of interest, and deemed it a mistake by the attorney. She said conflict of interest statements disclose important information about property and business operations that the public can view to see that their public entities are acting ethically.
On an additional level of tension, Goodman is representing Frenchko’s ex-husband on an active, pending domestic matter before the Common Pleas Court in Trumbull County.
Goodman said he had spoken out against a lawyer on several domestic matters with Frenchko. Frenchko said that she believes this is another conflict because when there is an active case, she doesn’t believe the two should be in touch and he shouldn’t be the one handling any inquiries or requests she may have.
She wants the COG to replace Goodman, she said. LaPolla said there is no plan to do this.
Commissioner Frank Fuda agreed that there may be a conflict and at least one conflict may arise. Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said he was in touch with the district prosecutor and was looking for more information.
Frenchko said Goodman also publicly insulted her, Fuda and Cantalamessa and didn’t think this was the right way “Decency and respect” project for a public facility. Goodman said their claims were unfounded.
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