New Mahoning Election Official Mired in Controversy | News, Sports, Jobs

YOUNGSTOWN – The Mahoning County Election Board has hired a new deputy director: Melissa Wasko, who has voluntarily retired from the county’s Employment and Family Services as an investigation into allegations of discrimination and creation of a hostile working environment was underway.

Thursday’s 4-0 vote immediately drew criticism from a number of people present at the board meeting, including a JFS case manager and the president of a union representing 135 workers at the agency.

David Betras, chairman of the board of directors, defended the hiring of Wasko – the wife of Bob Wasko, who retired on November 30 as a member of the electoral board – to the post that pays 81 $ 200 per year as well as the process that won him the job.

“In my mind, I am comfortable with this decision, and I can live with this decision”, he said.

In the past, the hiring of directors and deputy directors on the board of directors was done without an open process because they are “Political patronage jobs”, said Betras.

Instead, Betras said a five-person committee had been formed which included him; Joyce Kale-Pesta, the other Democratic board member who retired on November 30 as director; Thomas McCabe, the new director of the board of directors who was deputy director and chairman of the county Republican Party; Herb Washington, CEO and Founder of HLW Fast Track Inc .; and Kathi McNabb Welsh, deputy chief clerk of the county courts.

The job had to go to a Democrat. State law requires deputy directors of electoral boards to be of the opposing political party as the director.

“This is the first time in the history of the board that this has been opened”, said Betras. “I am very comfortable with the decision. I understand she was having problems, but she couldn’t talk about it “ due to an agreement she made with county commissioners regarding her voluntary resignation.

Betras said Wasko received a majority of the committee’s votes, but did not disclose the final vote.

Wasko was not at Thursday’s meeting and could not be reached for comment after it. She starts the new job on Monday.

Of the seven people who applied and were interviewed last week, three met with the committee on Wednesday for a second round as finalists. They were: Wasko; Ann Simms, absentee and interim supervisor; and Michele Clarett, Deputy Chief Registrar of the Youngstown Courts.

Betras acknowledged that Martyn P. Ross, director of construction services at Youngstown State University, was the top candidate. But he was disqualified because he voted in 2016 for Republican Donald Trump and the post is Democrat, Betras said.

“If you look at his curriculum vitae, he wasn’t even close” he said.

After Thursday’s vote, Maria Olverson, a bilingual JFS case manager, told council that Wasko had caused “Damage to all JFS employees”, “manipulated” people and “Is the one who ruined everything we had when it comes to a good working environment. “

Olverson, who said she was on medication for anxiety and depression because of Wasko, warned the board: “She will also create chaos here.”

Kevin Perry, president of the union that represents 135 JFS employees, said there had been numerous complaints about Wasko to the county agency.

“There were two women of color who applied and who would have done a great job”, he said, referring to Simms and Clarett. “It was a slap in the face for the African American community and for the citizens and taxpayers of Mahoning County. With all the complaints against (Wasko), they had two candidates with impeccable records. Is that the chosen person? Is not fair.”

County commissioners approved an agreement Oct. 21 with Wasko to retire as administrator of the JFS program, effective today.

WASKO INVESTIGATION

In the deal, Wasko agreed to stop working at the JFS office – which, like the electoral board, is located at Oakhill Renaissance Place – on October 21.

It was also agreed that she“The regular work site (would be) his home or any other off-site work site that Wasko chooses at his own expense” and she was required to return to JFS all county property in her possession or control, and by signing the agreement waived her right to sue the county.

She and the county also denied any responsibility or wrongdoing in connection with her employment and separation.

The board of elections met last week with plans to hire Wasko. But Betras said at that meeting that a Vindicator article on the Wasko deal “Hobbled” the process and “Made (the) more difficult”.

Sources said Wasko offered to step down after the article was published, but ultimately decided to remain a candidate.

County commissioners hired Drew C. Piersall of the Columbus law firm of Zashin & Rich to investigate Wasko with a final report released on October 25, four days after the voluntary retirement agreement was reached.

Piersall was hired to investigate allegations against Wasko of potential violations of the County Commissioners Staff Manual, as allegations of racial discrimination, discrimination on the basis of disability, retaliation and creating a hostile work environment have emerged. been brought against it.

Piersall interviewed 16 current and former JFS employees in August and September and reviewed thousands of documents as well as a number of audio recordings, according to his report.

Piersall wrote he was going to end his investigation by interviewing Wasko, but she quit before he could do what “Avoided the need to pursue the investigation further”.

Piersall wrote that on the basis of his investigation “I am of the opinion that Ms. Wasko’s alleged conduct has not resulted in a violation of relevant labor laws governing racial discrimination, discrimination based on disability, retaliation and the hostile work environment. However, no final decision could be made on this matter, as Ms. Wasko was not interviewed as part of the investigation.

He added that it was his “Opinion that Ms. Wasko may have violated the Mahoning County Commissioners’ Staff Manual.” Again, no final decision could be made on the matter since Ms. Wasko’s resignation was obtained and she was unable to provide a response to the allegations against her. And in view of Ms Wasko’s resignation, no further investigation is necessary due to the simple fact that there is no potential disciplinary action that could or should be taken against Ms Wasko at this time.

OTHER DISPUTES

Sarah Brown-Clark, clerk of Youngstown and immediate supervisor of Clarett, and Jaladah Aslam, chair of the Youngstown-Warren Black Caucus, who raised concerns in July about Wasko’s potential hiring, also opposed the move. Wasko hired at Thursday’s meeting.

“A few months ago, the rumor said that this would happen”, Aslam said. “It really pissed everyone off because we know what happened. I appreciate the process followed by the board, but it turned out exactly as I expected. “

Aslam said: “I will be watching this person because if we get any complaints here like those from the black and brown employees of JFS, I will be a headache for this board.”

Betras replied that if he finds out Wasko “Does not respect black and brown voters, it will be removed.” She knows she will be in the spotlight and has to do a good job. If she doesn’t, we’ll start the process over. Because her last name is Wasko doesn’t make her more or less qualified.

Brown-Clark said Clarett was perfect for the assistant manager job.

“I wanted to put an African American woman in this office without the (luggage) of” Wasko, she said. “Even if the outcome was predicted, my employee could have made you proud. “

Betras said the process was fair.

“Everyone said it was rigged” he said. “It wasn’t rigged.”

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