Members of the Trumbull County Board of Health can no longer pretend that the health department is operating smoothly and that a part-time commissioner is adequate.
What does it say about Commissioner Vincent Catuogno when the department fails to ask for $25,000 it has coming, despite repeated reminders? It says that his part-time status has become a liability. Members of the board of health are doing Trumbull County residents a disservice by not facing up to this reality.
The board is scheduled to meet April 16 to take formal action on a written reprimand of Catuogno that was drafted during a closed-door session last month. The reprimand will not be made public until it is signed by the board.
The action was prompted by member Jim Walters' research of the contract between the health department and the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District. The pact called for health officials to inspect landfills, waste transfer stations and to investigate trash complaints. In return, the department would be paid a $25,000 fee.
According to Gregory Kovalchick, compliance manager at the solid waste district, the health department performed the services well and "... we wanted to pay them." However, there was a problem with the invoices that were needed for the money to be released.
An invoice for the first-quarter payment was sent three weeks late by George Buccella, health department administrator, and was rejected by the solid waste district as incomplete.
Buccella's explanation for this oversight: "I'm not responsible for financial stuff."
Lack of qualifications: This is the same Buccella who earns $41,600 a year but is prohibited by the health board from visiting public health problem areas in the county and from talking to the press about environmental concerns. The health department administrator lacks the qualifications to perform such important tasks.
An invoice for the final quarter of 2001 was received by the solid waste district Feb. 7, three weeks late, but still weeks before the invoices for the second and three quarters arrived. Indeed, the revised first quarter invoice had still not reached the district when the fourth-quarter bill got there. All the bills finally made it by March.
What happened? To hear Catuogno tell it, the invoices were lost in the mail and there was a turnover in the position of director of environmental health.
But what most troubles board member Walters is that Catuogno told the board in January that the health department was current on its invoices for contracts. This situation cannot be dismissed by the board of health as a mere misstep that can be addressed by reprimanding Catuogno. What is required is a public discussion about the operation of the health department and whether a part-time health commissioner and an inadequately qualified administrator are getting the job done.