By Ed Runyan
Trumbull County commissioners adopted a countywide policy on sick-leave donations Thursday, but the county engineer’s office, which prompted the policy, has asked to opt out.
Engineer Randy Smith wrote a letter to county commissioners Thursday saying the county’s policy is “contrary to my operational needs and objectives.”
According to the county prosecutor’s office, commissioners have the right to refuse Smith’s request, but Smith says he believes it’s not clear whether that is true.
A county engineer’s office is “not subject to the dictates of a local county governing body” such as the commissioners and is not “a subordinate unit of government,” he wrote.
Sick-leave donation came to the attention of county commissioners last month after Nancy Guerini, an employee of Smith’s office who has cancer, said she was being denied use of donated sick-leave time from co-workers because the engineer’s office didn’t allow the practice, despite many other county employees being able to use it.
Sheriff Thomas Altiere, whose department has its own sick-leave donation policy for union workers, said Thursday he doesn’t know yet whether he will ask commissioners to allow his department to opt out.
In other business, commissioners approved unpaid suspensions for three employees of the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s office who failed to report the discovery of mercury in a pit near the Woodrow Avenue water tank in Champion in November.
Ronald Watson, a supervisor, is suspended for 15 work days, while employee Charles Davis is suspended 10 days, and employee Thomas Elder is suspended for three days.
The discovery in July led to a response by the Trumbull County HazMat team and an inspection by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on July 13.
A small amount of mercury was removed from the “sump pit” near the water tank July 16, but the mercury did not get into the water in the tank and posed no danger to water customers, Sanitary Engineer Rex Fee said.
The employees were disciplined because all three were aware that the silvery material they found in the pit might be dangerous but didn’t report it to upper management.
Davis was cleaning the pit and reported finding mercury there, according to documents from the county Human Resources office.
Davis informed Elder and Watson of the discovery and found additional mercury as he worked. Davis handed buckets containing the mercury to Elder and told Watson he “did not feel comfortable around the mercury,” the report said.
A bottle of the recovered substance eventually made its way to a safety committee meeting July 12 at which time Fee learned of the mercury spill on the water tank property and took action to get it cleaned up.