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Fingers point after county books placed in storage develop mold

LISBON — Columbiana County commissioners are spending $9,000 to clean county recorder books that became covered in mold while stored in Mahoning County.

Commissioner Tim Weigle reported during this week’s meeting they agreed to retain the services of Farsight Management of Dover to remove the mold and return the books to the county for temporary storage until a suitable permanent home can be found.

The books were moved to Great Value Storage in Boardman by county Recorder Theresa Bosel in 2018. She was having them moved from her main office and secondary location in the county courthouse basement to make more room for public access and protect them from further damage from the public.

Last summer, Weigle said Bosel told commissioners she found many of the stored books had mold and needed rehabilitated. He said Bosel mentioned something about it costing $170,000 to correct the problem, but provided no documentation.

Weigle said commissioners and their staff spoke to her after that, but she still did not present them with a formal plan for addressing the problem. He decided to visit the storage facility in November and found some books were just sitting on the floor instead of shelves. While the storage building had a furnace and air conditioning units, it did not appear to be functioning. “If it was climate controlled, it wasn’t working,” he said.

Weigle took some samples of the mold to be tested. The samples tested positive for Aspergillus/Penicillium, considered to be among the most dangerous types of mold.

That was in December, and Weigle said he found Farsight after seeking help from the county health department.

Weigle estimated there were about 2,000 index books stored at Great Value, and 1,000 have been cleaned so far and delivered in sealed totes to the elections board, where they are stored on shelves for now. He emphasized this is only a temporary arrangement because the elections board basement is not easily accessible to the public who have a need to view the books. The records in the books date back to the 19th century.

“When the new recorder comes in, whoever that might be, they’ll make a decision about what to do with them,” Weigle said.

Bosel is up for re-election this year but she did not make it on the ballot because her candidacy petitions lacked enough valid signatures. She can still run as a write-it candidate if she chooses.

Bosel said she took the books to Great Value because that was the closest climate-controlled facility with available units. “The problem is they apparently never turned the unit on,” she said.

The information contained in these books has been digitally recorded but the original books still need preserved for historical purposes and other reasons, Bosel said.

As for why she never supposedly followed up by providing commissioners with a plan to address the problem, Bosel said that is not true and she “begged” commissioners for help but was told it was her problem.

“I have gone to Tim and followed up often since he said he would try and help. So him acting like he’s saving the day is ridiculous,” she said, adding commissioners are responsible by law for upkeep of the books.

Bosel said she was “glad they are finally doing their job and taking care of these books. They are the county’s history.”

Weigle disputed Bosel’s contention she “begged” for help. He initially heard about the mold problem from his office staff and not from Bosel, and he chose to become involved later because nothing was being done.

Weigle also questioned Bosel’s claim about commissioners being responsible for the books, saying he believes Bosel is in charge of maintaining her office records and they are only required to provide her space for those records.

Commissioner Jim Hoppel, who is in charge of buildings and grounds, said they had nothing to do with Bosel’s decision to move the books and it was not their responsibility to fix the problem. Commissioners have no direct authority over how other elected county officeholders such as Bosel run their office, other than setting budget appropriations.

“This whole problem was created by her,” Hoppel said. “We were never approached by her to take the records out of here. I know I wasn’t. She told us she was going to find storage and she went out and did.”

The $9,000 is coming from the county capital improvement fund, which commissioners will seek to recover by filing an insurance claim. Weigle was asked if they were considering taking legal action.

“I haven’t even looked into that yet. My first priority was to remediate the problem and find someone to clean the books and get that done because nothing was being done,” he said.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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