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January 10, 2001


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Article published January 9, 2001

A public servant’s ‘reward’

Few things annoy voters more than seeing government kick around an employee intent on doing people like them some good.

At issue is the fate of Ohio Environmental Protection Agency site coordinator Paul Jayko, whom the agency removed as chief investigator of the River Valley Schools site near Marion on trumped up charges. The school grounds were once a military chemical dump, which the school board appears not to have known when it bought the property.

But the EPA knew toxins were being dumped next to the main campus since 1978 and they told no one, even in 1997 when state health officials found an unusually high leukemia rate in the area. The truth was learned by angry residents following paper trails.

Those residents trusted Mr. Jayko, who kept them updated on his work, which the EPA appears not to have liked. But the agency should have no secrets from Ohioans.

Mr. Jayko, declared a "whistleblower" under federal law by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is seeking a return to his old job of investigating possible links between the soil contamination and the leukemia cases. Residents trust him more than they trust his secretive EPA bosses.

The schools, nearly 40 years old, were built on acreage the military used to burn or bury an assortment of chemical poisons. Mr. Jayko had urged the EPA to be more aggressive in its investigation.

Now the U.S. Labor Department has accused the EPA of violating seven whistleblower statutes by reassigning him to its Bowling Green office.

Various appeals are available to the state Attorney General’s office. She should sit on all of them. The EPA seems to have a problem seeing itself as others see it, not an uncommon affliction in government. It will lose what credibility remains to it and to the Taft administration if it continues to make Mr. Jayko a victim.

State officials should be devising programs to encourage and protect whistleblowers, and discourage concerted efforts to do them in.

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