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Panel Rules City Was Justified in Firing Supervisor

August 15, 1991|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a 10-month hearing--the longest in Glendale history--three civil service commissioners ruled last week that city officials were justified in firing a top maintenance superintendent accused of using city workers to do his personal chores.

Paul Koehler, who oversaw custodial services and repairs in city-owned buildings, sought to be reinstated in his $64,000-a-year job through the commission hearings, which began last November. But after about six hours of deliberation, the three commissioners sustained 14 of the 21 charges against Koehler.

The commissioners said they recognized that Koehler was "results-oriented" and had achieved above-average job performance reviews. But they questioned his tactics in supervising employees.

"A major consideration to the commissioners in upholding the city's action was a pattern of Mr. Koehler consistently exercising poor judgment as a manager," the commissioners said in an Aug. 8 statement.

"He is an employee of the city and, as such, a servant to the citizens of Glendale," the statement said. "The commissioners found that Mr. Koehler has violated that trust by acting for his own personal gain rather than the city's."

The commissioners upheld charges that Koehler:

* Took home a 500-pound safe belonging to the city and ordered his workers to fabricate a dolly to help move it.

* Used city employees to build a new dashboard for his ski boat and to repair his barbecue and lamp fixtures.

* Arranged for $34,856 of cabinet work to be done for the city by his brother-in-law without disclosing the relationship to his supervisor.

* Used city employees to work on a personal model railroad club project.

Koehler was unavailable for comment after the ruling. His attorney, David A. Cordier, said Tuesday that the former administrator was disappointed by the outcome. The attorney said he believes Koehler was singled out unfairly for relatively insignificant acts.

"The evidence was abundantly clear that Mr. Koehler did absolutely nothing different than the top brass at the city of Glendale did," Cordier said. "There's no question there was a lot of internal politics there."

During the appeal, Cordier had argued that, even if Koehler had used poor judgment on a few occasions, termination was too harsh a punishment.

Koehler, who headed the maintenance staff for 3 1/2 years, was placed on a paid leave of absence in July, 1990, while the charges were investigated by city officials. He was fired Oct. 3 but appealed to the Civil Service Commission for reinstatement.

In a rare move, Koehler asked that his hearing be conducted in public. When it began, Cordier said Koehler did so because "the innuendo that has surrounded this case is far worse than the fact."

The volunteer commissioners generally met once a week to hear testimony during the 10-month appeal.

"It was the longest in Glendale's history," said John F. Hoffman, the city's personnel director. He said the full five-member commission is expected to certify last week's ruling later this month. Koehler then will have 90 days to file suit. Cordier said no decision on whether to take that step had been made.

No criminal charges were filed in the case. Glendale City Manager David Ramsay said new rules were implemented in Koehler's department as a result of the allegations. The superintendent's post has remained vacant while the appeal hearing was under way, and Ramsay said the maintenance staff may be reorganized.

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