MANSFIELD — Joe Trolian, terminated Monday as the Richland County Mental Health & Recovery Services Board executive director, has retained legal counsel.

“We are currently investigating all of our legal options,” Trolian told Richland Source in an email after a press release from a Columbus-area law firm that said he was “unjustly terminated.”

“We represent Joe Trolian in his recent termination by the Richland County Mental Health & Recovery Services Board. We appreciate the opportunity to allow Joe’s voice to be heard by way of the Richland Source,” said Becca Alexander, an associate attorney with the Oliver Law Office.

Trolian was dismissed Monday by the board after 20 years with the agency, including the last 16 as the executive director, for “neglect of duty and failing to inform the board of underlying interest in contracts and expenditures.” 

The press release from attorney Jami Oliver pointed to Trolian as a “pillar of the Richland County community.”

“Under his leadership, the agency has seen significant growth in funding and
community engagement. The current treatment by the board is not just a disservice to
Trolian but a disheartening message to a man who has given so much to Richland
County,” she said.

Oliver said the situation “calls for a fair and transparent evaluation of these accusations, free from political bias and hidden agendas.”

“It is important to approach this matter with an objective view, recognizing Trolian’s long-standing commitment to the county and ensuring that any assessments are based on facts and fairness,” she said.

“After two decades of unwavering service to the community, Trolian finds himself facing vague and unspecific charges that not only challenge his integrity but also the ethical compass of the board,” the attorney said.

Richland Source obtained a copy of Trolian’s personnel file through a public records request. The file reflected continuous positive performance evaluations during his time at the mental health agency.

Mental health board voted to file administrative charges Oct. 31

On Oct. 31, the board voted to file “administrative charges” against Trolian after a 2 1/2-hour executive session during a special board meeting. The board then met in emergency session early Nov. 1 and voted to place him on paid administrative leave.

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.

The board voted last week to retain private attorney David Smith at $210 per hour “to prepare and present the board’s case” during the hearing on Monday night.

During that hearing, Smith elaborated on the charges Monday, alleging that Trolian:

  • Assisted former board member Jay Wachs with facilitating contracts between Wachs’ company, JW Consulting, 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 on Monday evening. He called the board’s action “disheartening” and rejected the notion 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.

Trolian said Monday evening the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services paid The Change Companies to provide these trainings throughout Ohio prior to 2020, during 2020 and in 2023.

“In May 2020, my wife, Christy Ellis-Trolian, became an independent consultant, not an employee, delivering trainings for The Change Companies. She is the only trainer with The Change Companies that has experience with Ohio addiction treatment services,” Trolian said. “So she is especially qualified in conducting these trainings.”

Trolian attorney cites ‘haste and lack of transparency’

Oliver expanded on those thoughts in the press release.

“Firstly, Trolian has not been criminally charged or convicted, making the application of a criminal statute not only inappropriate but alarmingly misleading. Furthermore, the board’s inability to specify the sections of the alleged violations under ORC 102.03, a statute with 25 diverse sections, raises significant concerns about the legitimacy and clarity of these accusations,” she wrote.

Oliver cited what she called “haste and lack of transparency” in the board’s process.

“Trolian was placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 1, 2023, and given less than a week to prepare for a hearing, with no concrete evidence or details of the alleged neglect of duty provided. This lack of information has led to a reliance on speculative and damaging media reports, causing undue personal and professional harm to Trolian and his family,” she wrote.

Board decision came after meeting with county commissioner, others

The Oct. 31 executive session was attended by Richland County Commissioner Cliff Mears, county Administrator Andrew Keller and county human resources director Kelly Christiansen.

On Tuesday morning, Mears said commissioners went to the board that evening after “a whistleblower brought some behaviors to the board’s attention.”

“We consulted legal counsel, we brought that to the mental health board’s attention, and it was up to them to make a decision how they wanted to respond. And last night was their hearing and that’s how they responded,” Mears said.

Keller, also an attorney, said he could not find in mental health board meeting minutes where the board approved the contracts with The Change Companies.

“In our opinion, regardless of how widely available these services are, it’s inappropriate for an executive director, a public official, to be contracting with a company for the provision of services in excess of $40,000 where the public official’s wife will be providing many of those services,” he said.

Sherry Branham-Fonner, interim executive director, told Richland Source late Tuesday afternoon she also could not find board approval for contracts with The Change Company.

“I have looked in the board minutes and like the county administrator, I do not find a reference to The Change Companies,” Branham-Fonner said in an emailed response to a question.

Keller also pointed to Trolian’s efforts on behalf of Wachs.

“This was presented at the meeting last night … the executive director’s participation in (mental health) board member Jay Wachs’ conflicts of interest, active participation, in other words, suggesting that service providers utilize his board member’s company and use mental health dollars to do so,” Keller said.

“Also, in the rare instance in which a company is the only company capable of providing a particular service, Ohio Revised Code 2921.42(C)(4) still prohibits a public official with an interested family member from participating in decision-making,” Keller said in an email later in the day Tuesday.

“This statutory prohibition is non-negotiable. Furthermore, such a rare fact pattern would also require the ‘full knowledge’ of the political subdivision, presumably approved by the board, reflected in the minutes, and conspicuously noting the removal of the interested public official from the process,” Keller said.

Commissioner Tony Vero defended commissioners’ efforts to investigate the matter.

“Obviously we’re in a budget season and so we’re busy. We need to be very clear with respect to Mr. Trolian — this is not a witch hunt. The commissioners did not go on a fishing expedition,” Vero said.

“We received credible information via a whistleblower that there were some issues relating to our Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. We had a due diligence to investigate. The information we received came back to be true,” Vero said.

“The facts are simple. Mr. Trolian, in conjunction with Jay Wachs, worked in concert to provide public dollars (to) Mr. Wachs as a sitting board member of the Richland County Mental Health Recovery Services Board,” the commissioner said.

“The records are irrefutable. Mr. Wachs voted on said monies. And we have public records that indicate Mr. Trolian personally assisted Mr. Wachs in securing those contracts.

“This was credible information provided to us and we did our due diligence to investigate that information,” Vero said.

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