If someone is hired to enforce code, it’s in his or her best interest to work closely with the people who write it.
Athens City Code Director John Paszke was fired at about 8:30 a.m. Monday in favor of finding a new code director that would work more closely with Athens City Council and the current administration, Deputy Service-Safety Director Ron Lucas said.
“I know that we have, at this body, concerns with code enforcement,” Athens City Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, said. “It comes up frequently. He’s the guy in the charge of that office.”
In 2014, Athens City Council has butted heads with the Code Office time and time again as the city tested out a new-and-improved garbage and rubbish law. The new section of the law banned all trashcans visible from the street in front of homes. The law itself caused a riff between the council and the administration, and at one time, then-Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl vowed to veto it.
While council members were the catalysts behind the update in the long standing law, members voiced blatant outrage at the way in which Wiehl ordered Paszke to conduct a hard sweep of enforcement.
In mid-October 2014, code enforcement officers under Paszke’s command swept through the streets of Athens and doled out 400 warnings under the new law in less than a week.
Though the vote eventually passed with a 6-1 vote at the end of 2014 — Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, voted against for unrelated reasons — it was not without months of debate and contention.
“Time to get different leadership in the code office,” Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. “The role of the code office is huge, and code is huge.”
Lucas said the administration, headed by current Athens Mayor and former Athens City Councilman Patterson, desired a code director that would be more innovative.
“The current administration is seeking a new direction for code enforcement,” Lucas said. “I think that’s what he’s (Patterson) looking for in the next code director, someone who has that ability to challenge the ordinances and say, ‘Well, if we rewrite this or we look at this a different way, we’ll be more successful in our interpretation.’ ”
Patterson said that calls for a little more of a hands on approach.
“I think it’s important to have somebody who is directing code who knows that part of their role can be or should be looking at how we may need to amend code, overhaul parts of code that the code enforcement office oversees,” he said.
Monday’s sudden firing mirrors that of former Athens City Code Director Steve Pierson in June of 2008.
When Wiehl shifted rolls from 1st Ward councilman to Mayor in 2008, he replaced Pierson with Paszke by Nov. 21, 2008, according to Paszke’s personnel file.
Patterson did not wait that long.
“It’s probably very similar,” Lucas said. “It’s something that occurs when a new administration comes in.”
According to a letter terminating Paszke’s employment, Paszke “serves at the pleasure of the Mayor” and could have been terminated without cause.
Patterson, on the other hand, said the termination stemmed from another cause.
“I don’t think it’s a pattern,” Patterson said. “I think what it is is a likely a response to the citizens. A lot of our citizens have been dissatisfied with how the code enforcement office has been (enforcing) code.”
The code office is currently being run by Lucas, City Planner Paul Logue and Service-Safety Director Paula Horan-Moseley, Lucas said.
A job posting has yet to be listed and “could go out at any time,” Lucas said.
He added that he was not aware of any other department head changes that were in the works.
Paszke was sworn in by Horan-Moseley in 2008 as the Director of Code Enforcement. He was previously self-employed, running a construction business called German Village Showcase, Inc. in Columbus from 1993 to 2007, according to his personnel file. Before that, he worked for Voca Development and The Ohio State University.
At the time of his firing, Paszke was earning $25.71 an hour.