Sheriff Zuchowski seeks approval to hire a new labor negotiator

The flag of Portage County. Michael Indriolo/The Portager
The flag of Portage County outside the Kent Municipal Court on Jan. 28, 2021. Michael Indriolo/The Portager

Sheriff Zuchowski seeks approval to hire a new labor negotiator

Central Ohio law firm Clemans Nelson would replace the county attorney for sheriff’s office union negotiations

Sheriff Bruce Zuchowski requested the county commissioners’ approval on Tuesday to hire a new labor negotiator for sheriff’s office negotiations who would replace the attorney the county currently uses for nearly all of its union negotiations.

Zuchowski, in a letter to the commissioners, requested they sign a contract with an attorney from Clemans, Nelson & Associates, a Dublin-based law firm that represents many police departments throughout Ohio in union negotiations.

The county already has an attorney, Jim Wilkins, who represents most of the county’s departments in labor negotiations. Wilkins has already begun preparing to negotiate upcoming contracts for the sheriff’s office’s union-represented employees.

Todd Bragg, the county’s budget and financial management director, said in an interview with The Portager that Zuchowski had been pleased with the way Clemans Nelson handled a previous labor issue for the sheriff’s office, so he’d like to continue working with the firm.

Sabrina Christian-Bennett, president of the board of county commissioners, said Zuchowski has not yet met Wilkins. During the meeting, she expressed a concern that an attorney hired exclusively for the sheriff could answer more to him than to the county.

“Are we going to pay a new attorney at this point in time to reinvent the wheel when we already paid attorney Wilkins?” she said.

She said she doesn’t want to cost the county any more money because the board has already paid Wilkins to conduct background research in preparation for the negotiations.

However, the funding for a new labor negotiator would come from the budget the commissioners already allocated to the sheriff’s office, Bragg said.

Commissioner Tony Badalamenti said the sheriff told him the attorney from Clemans, Nelson & Associates would only charge $100 per hour, while Wilkins charges $250 per hour. The Clemans, Nelson & Associates attorney has earned Zuchowski’s confidence, he said.

“I would want to work with who I was comfortable with,” he said.

The commissioners decided to organize a meeting between Zuchowski and Wilkins before they invite the Clemans, Nelson & Associates attorney to meet with them.

This article was produced through a reporting partnership with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University.

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Michael Indriolo is a visual journalist based in Kent. He is a contributor at The Portager covering a range of topics, including local government and community.