WARREN — Trumbull County’s deputy sanitary engineer is asking county commissioners to follow through on a department study before making any staffing changes.
The commissioners are navigating concerns in the office responsible for handling sewer and waterline systems.
“The commissioners acknowledge I have been the primary driver in millions of dollars of infrastructure projects and in getting the grants to make that possible,” Gary Newbrough, deputy sanitary engineer, said.
Newbrough wrote a letter critical of Randy Smith, the head of the sanitary engineer’s office.
Smith asked commissioners to revoke Newbrough’s position as deputy engineer and to return Newbrough to his old position of grants writer / planner.
Smith is the county’s elected engineer and his responsibilities cover the highway department. But in 2015, county commissioners voted to put Smith in charge of the sanitary engineer’s department as well, although commissioners still are responsible for making the final decisions on things such as new hires.
Smith was given a $2,000-per-month salary increase for the added responsibility when the former sanitary engineer retired.
The county’s three commissioners now are reconsidering, and actively are looking into ways to study the office’s operations before making any changes on how the department should be led.
“I hope they take their time here to determine what is best for the department before making any sudden changes,” Newbrough said.
As commissioners gather information, Newbrough is asking the board also to hold off before deciding if his position in the department should change.
Smith said Tuesday he wants commissioners to put Newbrough back in the position of grants writer; Newbrough has continued to work on grants while serving as deputy sanitary engineer.
Newbrough said commissioners wanted to know his thoughts, and the thoughts of others in the department, about Smith’s leadership abilities. So, he wrote a critical letter detailing his experiences with Smith, calling into question the time Smith spends on sanitary office work, his specialized knowledge of the work, and cases in which Smith and other members of the office disagreed on how to proceed with projects.
Smith said he would like Newbrough to focus on grant writing and project management and leave the administrative and decision-making work for someone else.
After Newbrough’s concerns were raised, commissioners Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa called for a study of the department’s function, and Commissioner Dan Polivka said he respects the idea of a department study and wanted to see its results.
But at a meeting Tuesday, Fuda said he would like to change Newbrough’s position back to grants writer so he could continue obtaining grant money and doing project management — without asking him to work on administrative work.
Fuda praised Newbrough during the comments, but also said the county would be better served if he didn’t have to worry about administrative tasks.
Smith said he has staff in place to handle the administrative work.
Newbrough said changing his position before the study would be a “knee-jerk reaction” and like “shooting the messenger.” Newbrough said he hasn’t lost any projects or grant funding because of his workload, but said the department is down a project director after an employee moved on to a new position in Cortland.
“Projects would move faster if we had a new project director,” Newbrough said. “But even with the lost employee, our projects continue to move and we have not lost any grant funding or projects.”
Newbrough asked commissioners to follow through on the decision to study the department before making any changes. He said the department would run more smoothly if Smith wasn’t head of the department.
Fuda said Newbrough is talented and he doesn’t want to waste his “value” on administrative work.
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