High-ranking Cleveland official suspended for interacting with employees while knowingly infected with COVID-19

High-ranking Cleveland official suspended for interacting with employees while he had COVID-19

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A high-ranking Cleveland city official was suspended for interacting with his employees, knowing he was infected with the coronavirus.

Disciplinary documents we pulled from Chief Building Official Tom Vanover’s personnel file show he tested positive for COVID the week of November 10th.

It’s impossible to say for sure whether his actions later that day lead to an outbreak in his department.

He says he’s deeply sorry for what he calls a momentary lack of judgement.

Regardless, he faces discipline for what city officials say was a “disregard for the safety” of his employees.

Disciplinary documents say the day Vanover got his test results; he asked another employee to bring work-related materials to his home.

There, documents say the two engaged in conversation without masks and Vanover allegedly told the employee it was quote “only a cold.”

The employee went to management the next day, irate when he found out Vanover had COVID and knew it the whole time.

The employee later ended up testing positive too, but again, it’s impossible to determine whether he caught the coronavirus from Vanover or someone else.

Ironically though, 19 News found an interview we did with Vanover from March about a private endeavor he was promoting. He helped create a box to be used as a safer option when picking up or dropping off items somewhere.

He said, “Without having to come in contact with another person-- that’s the first and primary way to flatten the curve.”

So did his opinion on that change?

Vanover says no.

He did not want to go on camera Thursday but talked with 19 Investigates on the phone about the November incident.

Vanover said he had intended for his employee to leave the work items on his porch. However, he was on the phone when the employee knocked on the door. Vanover said he answered and the exchange lasted seconds, but wrote in his disciplinary documents, “I admittedly did not act appropriately... It was never my intention to put anyone in harm’s way, and I am deeply remorseful over the entire thing.”

Regardless, Brian Ziemann says Vanover’s punishment, or lack thereof, for what happened shows the city isn’t taking the illness seriously.

Ziemann is one of the city’s Building and Housing department employees who is battling the virus now.

“I’m just trying to get through this illness,” he said.

Ziemann initially reached out to us concerned about the way City Hall is operating amid a pandemic.

19 News filled him in on Vanover’s case.

“I think it’s a slap on the wrist to be honest,” Ziemann said.

Vanover’s supervisor decided on a one-day suspension for neglect of duty saying he’d acted with a disregard for the safety of others.

“It’s just sad that we have to endure environments that we walk into with no knowledge, and people just don’t care,” Ziemann said.

Vanover says he never went anywhere outside of his home from the time the symptoms began until he was cleared by his doctor and the city.

He said, “These are unnatural times, and obviously I could have been more diligent. Not everyone can have a protective barrier at their front door that’s why following the guidelines we do have is so important.”

Vanover’s feeling better and has been back to work since the beginning of this month. He’s serving his one-day unpaid suspension Friday the 11th.

We reached out to the city multiple times since receiving the disciplinary documents and speaking with the employee in this story.

No one in the Mayors office has responded to our questions about safety for workers in city hall.

However, Vanover says he believes the city is doing as good of a job protecting employees as possible.

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