Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018
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Politics

Maumee administrator reprimanded for criticizing judge

Maumee City Administrator John Jezak was reprimanded recently after sending a letter appearing to criticize new municipal court Judge Dan Hazard and his decision-making.

Mr. Jezak’s letter — written on official city letterhead, dated March 15, and sent to Judge Hazard — questioned the judge’s new budget. In the letter, Mr. Jezak said Judge Hazard would not solve the court’s constant budget shortfalls by hiring “political cronies,” and cautioned against creating a “spoils system” in Maumee.

Members of the administration and subordinates were copied on the letter. Mayor Richard Carr reprimanded Mr. Jezak, and told him not to report to work March 19 and 20. Mr. Jezak was paid both days.

“You can’t be writing this in your official capacity criticizing somebody we have no control over,” Mayor Carr said. “Making statements like ‘political cronies’ and a ‘spoils system,’ that’s just not right. And to copy subordinates when you criticize other directors isn’t acceptable.”

Maumee has no operational control over the court, although the city funds its budget.

In Mayor Carr’s letter of reprimand, he said Mr. Jezak’s actions were in violation of Maumee’s code of personal conduct. He cited Section 1.2, regarding professionalism in speech, behavior, and appearance. Mayor Carr also reminded Mr. Jezak he is to report to work each day at 8 a.m. “consistent with other city employees,” and said he has received many inquiries regarding Mr. Jezak’s work hours.

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John Jezak

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In his letter, Mr. Jezak said the court has been overstaffed for years, and suggested leave and flex time should be reduced. Judge Hazard was caught off-guard by the letter.

“I wasn’t anticipating anything. Mr. Jezak didn’t call me to ask any questions. He didn’t stop in or make any attempt to discuss it with me,” Judge Hazard said. “He didn’t attend any of the budget meetings or the committee hearing on the court budget. So I was taken aback.”

Mr. Jezak went on to caution Judge Hazard against rehiring retirees looking to “double dip,” saying many temporary court workers could qualify if rehired in a full-time capacity. Mr. Jezak also expressed concerns over the previous judge’s policy of allowing certain new hires to earn up to five weeks of vacation.

Judge Hazard said the “double dipping” concerns are unwarranted.

“That’s all mere speculation because John doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Judge Hazard said. “He hasn’t had any conversations with me whatsoever about this. It’s extraordinary.”

Judge Hazard said the court had seven openings during the transition, including the clerk of courts and bailiff positions. He’s still determining which jobs will be filled, hinting some may remain vacant. Mr. Jezak’s letter mentioned Judge Hazard recently took applications for four positions.

Judge Hazard said his primary concern since taking over earlier this year has been making sure the court is functional. He said other items, such as the vacation question, will be addressed after more pressing issues are resolved.

In a subsequent email to various city officials, Mr. Jezak wondered why employees took exception to his letter. He also said his criticisms were not the result of partisanship, saying he and his family voted for Judge Hazard.

“I believe the misunderstanding by some is that they believe this is a partisan attack on Judge Hazard when it is in fact the opposite,” Mr. Jezak said in the message. “I also congratulated Dan immediately after his election. I believe and still believe in his commitment to improve the function of the court.”

Mr. Jezak’s letter and email, and Mayor Carr’s letter of reprimand were obtained by The Blade.

Mr. Jezak appealed the discipline, but Mayor Carr dismissed it. He said the appeal failed to cite specific language interpreted or administered incorrectly.

In an email to The Blade, Mr. Jezak stated he is still appealing and has asked for a time extension. He said his letter and follow-up email “speak for themselves,” but did not wish to comment further.

Judge Hazard was elected last year and ran on a platform of cutting the court’s growing deficit, which has increased from about $200,000 to nearly $900,000 over the years. Mr. Jezak reminded Judge Hazard of that promise in the letter.

City council approved the budget — which pegs the court to lose about $800,000 this year — at its March 19 meeting. Mayor Carr said it will take time to realize savings in the court.

“The judge was just elected, so our finance division said they would just use last year’s budget and add the increases in pay until the judge’s changes get implemented,” Mayor Carr said. “And then next year, we can do a more accurate budget.”

Mayor Carr said this is the first time he has had to discipline someone in the administration. Mr. Jezak has served in his role with the city since 2000.

Contact Jay Skebba at jskebba@theblade.com, 419-376-9414, or on Twitter @JaySkebba.

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