WARREN — The final candidate in the most recent round of applications for Trumbull County human resources director, a position that has been vacant since Feb. 1, turned down the offer, forcing commissioners to reevaluate their options.
This was a candidate Commissioners Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa wanted to hire, but Commissioner Niki Frenchko said the man was not qualified. She said a first-round candidate is still interested in the job and wants commissioners to consider it.
In this most recent round, a human resources review panel, tasked with reviewing applications and making recommendations to commissioners, accepted 73 applicants and recommended and ranked six for commissioners to interview and consider for the position. Two of the six never responded to staff’s repeated attempts to arrange an interview; one withdrew his name from consideration because the salary was too low; one would consider the position only if the county provided relocation assistance; and one didn’t want to move out of her house near Cincinnati.
That left one candidate ranked second by the review panel of 73 applicants. According to Fuda and documentation provided by the commissioners’ staff, this candidate withdrew his name from consideration after accepting a job elsewhere. But at a Sept. 26 meeting between the commissioners and the review panel, its members encouraged Fuda to call this candidate and try to make him a better offer.
Cantalamessa, who joined part of the meeting by phone, agreed this was the right step and said this candidate was his favorite choice from the start. Frenchko was not present. She said this was because the Monday morning meeting was called the previous Friday afternoon, which did not give enough notice, and she would prefer the panel to send written comments on where the search process should go to from there, as well as any suggested changes.
Cantalamessa and Fuda had previously interviewed this final candidate of the second round. Frenchko said that when she called him to set up an interview, she asked him several basic questions. She said that she was not satisfied with her answers and that an interview between Frenchko and this candidate was never conducted.
According to Fuda, the candidate told him this was part of the reason he didn’t take the job. He also said that he wanted to work in a place where his bosses would get along.
The candidate did not respond to requests from this newspaper for comment.
At the September 26 meeting, Steve Charles, administrative assistant at the Trumbull County Department of Human Resources, outlined many of the important roles of a human resources director. The director is needed as a benefits administrator, to approve or deny health insurance appeals, and to approve or deny procedures outside of your coverage; for the grievance procedure, to approve or deny grievances and then meet with the union; issue discipline when necessary; provide general direction for the department; help a broker with health and life insurance offers; carry out the labor contracting process; prepare the department budget; and interpret labor agreements.
The county has 11 unions, covering most of its 2,600 employees. Therefore, the panel agreed that contract negotiation and labor relations are one of the most important qualities that a candidate must have. Specifically, that means the ability to interpret day-to-day work agreements.
Frenchko said he didn’t think the final candidate was qualified because he had no benefits administration experience, according to his resume. He also pointed to the fact that he had not held the title of a company’s human resources director since 2011.
Since then, this candidate has worked as a plant manager for a large auto company, where he supervised hundreds of employees and regularly dealt with contract negotiations, according to his resume. Fuda said that he liked this candidate because he was highly recommended by the review panel made up of local experts.
‘TIRED OF IT’
“I really appreciate all your work,” Fuda told panel members at the September 26 meeting. “He’s taking his time trying to solve our problem and we have a commissioner who is doing everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen, and I’m tired of it.”
Frenchko said that she is the one who has been working hard to get this. “critical position” full, and that it is unbelievable that it has been accused of derailing the process. She said she wants someone as a director who will work to advance the interests of the county and its policies, rather than the political interests of the other commissioners.
Going forward, he wants the other commissioners to consider the last-round candidate who has continued to express interest, even after the county accepted a second round of applications. On June 21, he sent a letter to the three commissioners to reiterate his interest in the job. Frenchko said she has been in communication with him ever since. The letter states that if the commissioners have any questions, he would be happy to schedule additional interviews.
“They want someone to be a political hacker, not a human resources professional.” Frenchko said of the other commissioners. “It bothers me because good procedures start from the top down, and that really starts with a hiring manager.”
Cantalamessa said he is open to considering all qualified applicants. He said that at least three members of the human resources panel have expressed interest in the job, so he will talk to them. He has already interviewed one.
He said the panel has produced many quality candidates and it has been frustrating that none of them have wanted to take the job.
“The next step for me is to review the interested committee members and remaining qualified applicants and make the best decision for Trumbull County.” Cantalamessa said. “That said, if there isn’t a ‘fit’ or we still have people who won’t take the job for whatever reason, then we may be stuck with advertising again. However, I certainly hope that is not the case.”
If commissioners have to advertise the position a third time, one of the members, David Bevilacqua, who has 30 years of experience in human resources, said he thinks the process will need to change.
Bevilacqua said a single person should be responsible for speeding up the process, so candidates don’t have as much time to look for other jobs or consider other options.
“If you do the same process and go through the same steps, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion.” Bevilacqua said.
Frenchko also said someone should keep in constant contact with candidates so they don’t lose interest.
During the September 26 meeting, some members of the panel suggested bringing in outside help from someone who would act as a recruiter, who could search for candidates, communicate with them and schedule interviews.