If George Buccella, administrator of the Trumbull County Department of Health, isn't allowed to visit public health problem areas in the county and isn't permitted to talk to the press about environmental concerns, then what justification is there for keeping him on the payroll? Buccella earns $41,600 a year.
The question demands a public answer from members of the board of health who support him and from the part-time health commissioner, Vincent Catuogno, who recommended his hiring two years ago.
We say "public" because we believe that the residents of Trumbull County are owed a full explanation for why Buccella was given the job in the first place and why he's being kept on now that it has been decided that he lacks the qualifications to perform some important tasks.
A month ago, board members announced that they were going to discuss the administrator's status in the wake of his testimony in Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.'s federal criminal trial. Buccella had been on Traficant's congressional payroll from February 1985 to May 2000 -- he quit that job to take the health administrator's position -- and testified that he performed work on the congressman's farm while in his employ.
He also said he delivered pizzas during work hours.
Waste district: Well, the outcome of that board meeting was a memo sent by Catuogno to Buccella laying out the job restrictions. In addition to not going out on inspections and not talking to the press about environmental problems, the administrator is also prohibited from serving in any capacity with the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste District. He was recently elected vice chairman of the district's policy committee.
By Buccella's own account, he had gone out 18 times, at the request of other health department staffers, to offer his opinion on environmental health problems like the discovery of arsenic in the village of Braceville's water or failing septic systems around Mosquito Lake. Why would his opinions count for anything? He has a high school diploma from Niles McKinley, has no college degree, has had no formal training in environmental health and his only claim to fame is that he worked for Traficant and is a former Weathersfield Township trustee.
In the words of Dr. Douglas Burchett, a board member who abstained from voting on Buccella's hiring two years ago because the position had never been advertised, "He really can't make a decision on an issue that requires a registered sanitarian to handle. We don't want any false info getting out."
And that begs the question: Why doesn't the board of health fire Buccella and demand that health commissioner Catuogno accept full-time status? What Trumbull County needs is a health commissioner who is willing to work 40 hours a week, not a part-timer and not an administrator who, by virtue of his lack of qualifications, cannot fully perform his duties.