Finance Director Todd Bragg’s days at the Portage County Administrative Building are numbered as county commissioners placed him on administrative leave in a surprise finale of their March 11 meeting.
Bragg has until Monday to submit his resignation or be fired.
Commissioners Vicki Kline and Tony Badalamenti supported Bragg’s termination. Commission President Sabrina Christian-Bennett disagreed and distanced herself from their action.
The decision came suddenly and took place in front of a nearly empty room. The commissioners went into executive session at the end of their regular meeting. A reporter asked if there would be any actions following the meeting, and Kline said there would not be.
So everyone left, including The Portager’s volunteer videographer who had livestreamed the rest of the meeting. Only Brian Ames, a Randolph open government watchdog who regularly tapes meetings, stayed and provided The Portager with his video clip.
When Kline returned to the chambers, she declared: “We’re gonna dismiss Todd Bragg as of today. Paying him through April.”
During the meeting, Kline and Badalamenti cited different reasons for firing him, though they appeared to have reached an agreement to fire Bragg outside of any public portion of Thursday’s meeting. There was no public debate.
“That was a shock to me,” Christian-Bennett told The Portager. “Obviously the other two commissioners had discussed that, which is against the Sunshine Laws.”
Officials from across the county have contacted her with questions, she said, but she doesn’t have answers for them.
“I am so disgusted with this,” she said.
Kline, Badalamenti and Bragg did not return calls.
Kline said that “for some time” she has been hearing complaints about Bragg from other departments. She mentioned an instance involving a miscommunication about the availability of funding for the county Board of Elections, which Bragg said he had attempted to clarify.
Badalamenti seemed to disagree with the manner in which Bragg answered questions.
“When asked a question, which you’ve done today, and you did Tuesday, and you typically do it, you tend to talk very much in circles when we ask very specific questions about something,” he told Bragg. “We did it with the leases, we did it with the sheriff’s office.”
Badalamenti also suggested that Bragg did not provide itemized budgets upon request. Bragg replied that the documents were in front of him.
“I don’t know what those mean,” Badalamenti said. “I can look at a spreadsheet and be able to tell itemized, but we don’t do that in this office. We have a piece of paper that says I don’t know why they got $300,000 or $400,000 the next year or $500,000 the year after that. It’s a hunt and peck because we can’t pull.”
He alleged there was a potential for fraud.
“It is not my desire,” Christian-Bennett told Bragg. “It is Tony’s and Vicki’s desire to terminate your employment.”
As the meeting closed, Bragg was placed on immediate administrative leave, and staffers severed his computer access.
In an interview, Christian-Bennett said Bragg has served the county for almost 10 years, “and you don’t give him the decency to bring him in to talk to him about issues that you’re having with him?”
She said the county had the two largest carry-overs in history under Bragg’s tenure. No one in the county administration feels their job is safe now, and morale is low.
“Todd’s in a difficult position because his job involves standing between what people want and the commissioners. It’s an unpopular position to be in,” she said.
Earlier in Thursday’s session, Kline and Badalamenti voted to approve amended legislation to lease 15 Chevy Tahoe patrol vehicles for the sheriff’s office, in an apparent reversal of the sentiment from Tuesday’s work session in which Bragg and the commissioners seemed to agree the money was not in the budget. Christian-Bennett voted against the sheriff’s vehicle request.
Badalamenti said he proposed to fund the vehicles because “I disagree with the way [Bragg] explains it to me. I disagree with the $219,000 being $500,000. I disagree with what we’re doing with the sheriff’s office and not doing with the sheriff’s office. I hear what Todd says. Sometimes I feel like I’m being led in a circle.”
There was no additional discussion.
The cost for the vehicles is set at $1,033 per vehicle per month, for a total of $15,495 per month or $185,940 annually.
Kline said she met with Sheriff Bruce Zuchowski on March 10. She said she had no idea that sheriff’s deputies, which she called Portage County policemen, are paid so much less than Ravenna police officers, nor had she understood how many miles county officers log in their cars.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” she said.
The commission indicated they will finalize the details of Bragg’s termination during their work session March 16.