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  • Prober says EPA gave him 'backwater' jobs

    Thursday, July 29, 1999

    By Randall Edwards
    Dispatch Environment Reporter

    PERRYSBURG, Ohio -- Based on the state's job-classification system, Paul Jayko is still a site investigator for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

    But Jayko told a federal judge yesterday that in reality, his assignment hasn't been the same since he began tangling with his bosses over the River Valley schools investigation in Marion County.

    Since June 1998, when Jayko was reassigned from his position as the site coordinator for one of the EPA's most high-profile cases, Jayko has been assigned to "backwater'' sites in the EPA's northwest district office, he told Tom Phalen, an administrative law judge for the U.S. Department of Labor.

    The yearlong battle to get his job back has cost him his reputation, his life savings, part of his wife's savings and the job satisfaction he had during his first seven years with the EPA, Jayko said.

    Phalen is presiding over a civil trial to determine whether Jayko should be given whistle-blower protection under federal laws that protect public employees from retaliation when they report wrongdoing by their own agencies. The trial, being held in Perrysburg Municipal Court, is scheduled to end this week.

    Jayko was removed from the River Valley investigation and was suspended without pay for 10 days because he drank two beers before a public meeting and allegedly falsified a receipt for a pizza.

    Jayko and his lawyers say he was punished for raising concerns about the thoroughness of the Marion investigation.

    The EPA and federal agencies are investigating contamination on the grounds of River Valley high and middle schools. The schools were built on the site of a military base, and investigators have determined that much of the property was used as a dump.

    The probe began because of an unusually high number of leukemia cases among River Valley graduates.

    During testimony yesterday, Jayko said he has depleted most of his and his wife's savings for legal bills and because the EPA won't give him time off to go to court.

    He said his workdays are spent visiting low-priority cleanup sites, "mostly to make sure they are still there.''

    His lowered status makes his job less satisfying, Jayko said.

    "There is a tremendous amount of isolation that was not there before, and it makes going to work very difficult.''

    The controversy has affected his reputation and his home life, he said.

    EPA officials issued a news release about the suspension, and newspapers throughout Ohio reprinted an Associated Press account of the action. One northeastern Ohio newspaper headlined the story "EPA investigator accused of boozing on the job.'' His wife began to cry when she read it, Jayko said.

    Under cross-examination by assistant Ohio Attorney General Jack W. Decker, Jayko said it was not unusual for EPA site investigators to change assignments as budgets changed and priorities shifted.


    Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch