MANSFIELD — The Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board fired its executive director Joe Trolian following a hearing on Monday night.
Trolian began work at the agency in August 2003 as the clinical director and became the executive director in October 2007.
The board voted 11-1 to terminate him “for neglect of duty and failing to inform the board of underlying interest in contracts and expenditures.” Ronald Moton cast the sole dissenting vote in the decision to fire Trolian.
The board previously placed Trolian on administrative leave, following administrative charges.
According to the board, the charges stem from violations found in Ohio Revised Code 2921.42, which pertains to having an unlawful interest in a public contract, and also Ohio Administrative Code Section 102.03, which discusses ethical behavior by a public official.
Smith elaborated on the charges Monday, alleging that Trolian:
- Assisted former board member Jay Wachs with facilitating contracts between Wachs’ company and the mental health board. Smith stated that Wachs was involved with running the company and “directly benefitting” from the contract. He also stated that Trolian was aware of Wach’s “personal involvement” in the contract.
- Authorized a contract between the Richland County Mental Health & Recovery Services Board and The Change Companies for training and books. Trolian’s wife, Christy Ellis-Trolian, was employed by The Change Companies at the time and provided training sessions with local mental health providers as part of the contract.
Trolian responded to those accusations by reading a prepared statement. He called the board’s action “disheartening” and rejected the notion that he had acted improperly.
“I have devoted the last 20 years of my life to the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board,” he said.
“The accusations I face here today are completely unfounded. I always exercise the utmost care in carrying out my duties as ethically as possible. I have never used my professional authority or influence for personal gain or any other improper motive.”
The contract with The Change Companies
The board cited two sections of ORC 2921.42 in its charges against Trolian. The statute says:
(A) No public official shall knowingly do any of the following:
(1) Authorize, or employ the authority or influence of the public official’s office to secure authorization of any public contract in which the public official, a member of the public official’s family, or any of the public official’s business associates has an interest;
(4) Have an interest in the profits or benefits of a public contract entered into by or for the use of the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality with which the public official is connected;
In response to a public records request filed by Richland Source, county commissioners released documents showing roughly $58,000 in mental health agency payments for products and services from The Change Companies in Carson City, Nev.
That company employed Trolian’s wife, Christy Ellis-Trolian, who has “more than 25 years of experience in mental health and addictions counseling, supervision and administration in various settings in Ohio,” according to the documents.
Trolian told board members the training The Change Companies provided was for the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria. He said all addiction treatment service providers are required to use ASAM criteria under Rule 5122 of the Ohio Administrative Code and that The Change Companies was the only provider licensed to provide it.
“The Change Co. has an exclusive copyright on the third edition of the ASAM Criteria, the only edition used from 2013 to November 2023,” Trolian said.
“Only trainers with The Change Co. can offer the copyrighted training of the third edition of the ASAM criteria. Thus, the Richland County Mental Heath and Recovery Services board and other similar agencies across Ohio were required to pay for training from The Change Companies or (its training division) Train for Change to meet that legal obligation.”
Trolian added that his wife, who was hired as an independent contractor for The Change Companies in May 2020, was exclusively assigned to do certain trainings in Ohio.
“She’s the only trainer with The Change Companies that has experience with Ohio addiction treatment services, so she’s especially qualified in conducting these trainings,” he said.
“This is not just my personal opinion. It’s the opinion of Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services and other boards across the Ohio who have hosted her to conduct their training.”
Trolian also stated funding for the trainings came from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
He also said the circumstances “clearly met” exceptions outlined ORC 2921.42:
(C) This section does not apply to a public contract in which a public official, member of a public official’s family, or one of a public official’s business associates has an interest, when all of the following apply:
(1) The subject of the public contract is necessary supplies or services for the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality involved;
(2) The supplies or services are unobtainable elsewhere for the same or lower cost, or are being furnished to the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality as part of a continuing course of dealing established prior to the public official’s becoming associated with the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality involved;
(3) The treatment accorded the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality is either preferential to or the same as that accorded other customers or clients in similar transactions;
(4) The entire transaction is conducted at arm’s length, with full knowledge by the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality involved, of the interest of the public official, member of the public official’s family, or business associate, and the public official takes no part in the deliberations or decision of the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality with respect to the public contract.
Trolian denies impropriety with public relations contracts
Former mental health board member Jay Wachs resigned Oct. 24, after Richland County commissioners alleged he used his position as a board member for his personal benefit.
Commissioners released a document they said showed the mental health agency and its board proposed an agreement with mental health providers to share costs in developing public relations plans that could include Wachs through his firm, JW Consulting.
“If an agency is interested in working with JW Consulting or another firm for the purpose of developing a public relations plan to increase awareness of services, address workforce shortages or develop greater exposure in the community. The Board will agree to pay 50% of a 1-year contract for up to 10 hours per month or up to $7,200.00 per year,” according to the mental health board contract released by commissioners.
Trolian said the board had offered a similar shared funding agreement to mental health providers in partnership with a different marketing company in July 2022, but none of the agencies expressed interested.
According to Trolian, Wachs asked to present his own plan about six months later.
“The Board provides an equal opportunity to all public relations companies to present their offered plan and gives all agencies the opportunity to choose which company they prefer to use,” Trolian said.
Trolian said two local providers ended up accepting the shared-funding offer. One chose to work with JW Consulting; the other opted to work with DRM Productions. He added that the contract between JW Consulting and Talbot Health Services was terminated once concerns about a conflict of interest were raised in accordance with Ohio law.
“The Board never entered into a contact with JW Consulting,” Trolian said. “The contract was with Talbot Behavioral Health Services to be reimbursed for 50 percent of the cost of the PR agreement for a year up to $7200.”
Commissioners have also called into question payments between the mental health board and Gravity Ohio, a local non-profit where Wachs also sat on the board.
Trolian pointed out that he did not appoint Wachs to the mental health board, nor was he a voting member of the board.
“The issue was later raised that Jay Wachs may have had a conflict of interest,” Trolian said. “As Executive Director, I was not responsible for Jay’s actions.
“I have no personal interest in JW Consulting, nor did I personally benefit from Talbot Health Services utilizing their services through the funding agreement.”
Interim director Sherry Branham-Fonner continues to lead the agency
Board chair Susan Bemiller said the board will discuss next steps for hiring Trolian’s replacement at its meeting next Tuesday.
Interim Executive Director Sherry Branham-Fonner will continue leading the agency in the meantime.
“The staff have really worked hard to continue to do what we do every day,” Branham-Fonner said.
“Of course it’s been a challenging time, but the morale of the staff has been as well as can be expected. They’ve rallied when they need to rally and I’m very impressed and proud with them. They have handled everything in a very professional manner.”
Both Trolian and Branham-Fonner declined to comment on the board’s ruling.