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summa

Published Friday, October 6, 2000,
in the Akron Beacon Journal.

OHIO NEWS 7-DAY ARCHIVE
Monday ~ Tuesday ~ Wednesday ~ Thursday ~ Friday ~ Saturday ~ Sunday


Activists laud ruling against Ohio EPA

Citizens group contends judge's decision proves agency isn't trustworthy

BY KATE ROBERTS
Associated Press

COLUMBUS: A judge's ruling that Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency wrongly removed the head of an investigation into contamination at two schools shows that the agency can't be trusted to enforce environmental laws, activists said yesterday.

``Here we have a federal judge saying all the things we've said on the record about the massive, ongoing cover-up at the OEPA,'' said Simona Vaclavikova, program director for Ohio Citizen Action.

Administrative law Judge Thomas F. Phalen Jr. ruled this week that the state must reinstate Paul Jayko to his position as site coordinator for the investigation at the River Valley schools in Marion County, 40 miles north of Columbus.

Jayko was taken off that project in June 1998 and suspended for 10 days after agency officials accused him of drinking alcohol on the job and padding his expense account. His attorney, Dennis Muchnicki, said Jayko was assigned to minor projects and ``busy work.''

Phalen ruled that the allegations against Jayko were unfounded and that he is protected under a federal whistle-blower law. Besides back pay and damages, the agency must also pay Jayko's attorney's fees and restore 30 days paid vacation which Jayko had to take to appear in court.

Carol Hester, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA called Phalen's ruling ``wrong'' and said the state will appeal.

``To use the whistle-blower law, you have to demonstrate that there's been illegal activity on the part of the agency that was reported by the employee,'' Hester said.

``There's no proof that there was any illegal activity. Mr. Jayko made recommendations on what his thoughts were on what we should sample for. Management made a different decision. That's a professional difference of opinion,'' Hester said.

Marilyn Wall, conservation chair for the Sierra Club's Ohio Chapter called Phalen's ruling a ``stinging indictment'' of the Ohio EPA.

She pointed to the judge's statements that the agency misrepresented health threats to the public at River Valley schools and told its employees to continue to give the message that there was no evidence linking the sites to leukemia.

``This leads me to discredit the entire policy of the OEPA management as such a misrepresentation of the Marion investigation . . .'' Phalen wrote.

Jayko's reinstatement backs up activists' position that the Ohio EPA has been lying to citizens about soil and water contamination at River Valley schools, Wall said.

``Over and over, Paul Jayko tried to conduct a thorough investigation of River Valley,'' she said. ``They criticized him for committing things to writing they didn't want written down.


                  
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