By Ed Runyan
The attorney representing the Geauga Trumbull Solid Waste Management District says the public should rest assured that the district has “operated with the greatest amount of transparency throughout the process” of hiring a new director.
The process has included controversy, with the job requirements being changed part way through, and the process being started over with new advertising and a second deadline for applications.
Atty. Greg O’Brien, who also works closely with the district’s hiring committee, said the committee will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday “to address any procedural issues” raised by a Vindicator reporter during a session last Tuesday at which committee members reviewed job applications.
O’Brien told the reporter that a scheduled meeting that morning was not going to take place because not enough members had come. An additional member arrived while The Vindicator was leaving, but O’Brien said the gathering of a handful of people sitting together in a meeting room, and observed by The Vindicator, still was not a meeting.
When asked to give a specific citation of Ohio law to substantiate why a committee of a public body would be able to review job applications in a prearranged meeting without it being a public meeting, O’Brien cited the Open Meetings Act but was unable to cite a specific part of the law.
“It’s not an open meeting under Ohio law. I’m asking you to please leave and go to the lobby,” he said.
When The Vindicator told O’Brien later that day its attorney had advised that such a gathering did appear to be a public meeting, O’Brien said he would research the matter further and respond later.
Late Friday, he emailed The Vindicator, saying the committee would address the Vindicator’s public-meeting questions Wednesday “to assure the district’s commitment” to follow the Ohio Open Meetings Act “and to avoid the distraction of debating the nuances of the procedural aspects” of the law.
The letter did not say whether O’Brien still thought Tuesday’s meeting was not a public meeting.
The committee also will “continue the hiring process” at Wednesday’s meeting, O’Brien’s letter said.
“It is the hope that this additional effort by the selection committee will refocus everyone’s efforts on the task at hand which is the selection of the best qualified individual from the group of individuals being considered,” O’Brien said.
The district, whose headquarters is on Enterprise Drive Northwest, is a government agency that uses landfill fees to educate the public and run environmental programs, such as recycling centers.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the committee may also go into executive session, meaning a closed meeting, as allowed under Ohio law, to discuss the hiring of a new director, O’Brien said.
O’Brien said it was “unfortunate” that the hiring process had to be restarted, but “the sole purpose of that action was to widen the pool of qualified candidates, increase the media platform in which to advertise for the position, and assure the selection committee contained a fair representation of the two counties in which the District functions.”
Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka appears to have prompted the re-do of the hiring process, arguing that he had not been notified that the committee was beginning its work, causing him to miss the meetings. He also questioned the makeup of the committee and argued that a bachelor’s degree should not be required. The requirement was later lifted.
Because of no-shows by Polivka and Warren businessman Sterling Williams and the illness of a Geauga County member, only three people participated in the first hiring committee – Bob Villers, who was then the director; Fred Bobovnyk from Trumbull County; and O’Brien, who is from Geauga County. Villers and Bobovnyk described O’Brien as fully involved in the committee’s work, even though he is the district’s attorney.
O’Brien’s letter also addressed accusations reported by The Vindicator that Polivka and Villers were “steering” the position to any particular candidate.
The job pays $68,000 to $75,000 per year.
“During this restarted hiring process, neither the selection committee, nor any of its members, have ever engaged in any action, express or implied, that could be labeled as steering this position to an one particular candidate,” O’Brien wrote.
Meanwhile, Skip Claypool, interim district director, a Geauga County commissioner and a member of the hiring committee, said he convinced Greg Kovalchick, the solid waste district’s compliance manager for the past 20 years, to allow the hiring committee to consider him for the job after Kovalchick withdrew himself from consideration.
Kovalchick applied the first time, but the hiring committee did not select him to be one of the two finalists. He did not apply the second time.
Claypool said he urged Kovalchick to place himself back into consideration.
“I want to find the best person for the job,” Claypool said. “As we were going through for experience and background, it seemed he had good experience. I asked him if I could put him back in the pile. Greg said that was OK,” Claypool said.
The committee agreed.