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Wrongful termination, whistleblower suit against Center Township to continue

A county judge has denied a petition from Center Township to dismiss a wrongful termination and whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former zoning officer.

Common Pleas Court President Judge S. Michael Yeager denied the township’s petition for summary judgment against the suit filed by Patrick Gauselmann, who was terminated from his zoning officer position in November 2020. He also was fired from his job as the township’s public works director.

Yeager issued the decision following a hearing on the township’s petition Sept. 14. In his order, the judge said he denied the petition because “genuine issues of material fact” exist.

The dispute between Gauselman and the township stem from a disagreement over a building permit sought by Martin Sales and Service on North Main Street Extension.

The business submitted a land development plan in October 2019 to build a storage building, consolidate two lots, and regrade the property. After reviewing the proposed plan, Gauselmann told the township engineer that the grading, building setback and parking did not comply with township ordinance requirements, according to the suit.

The township planning commission voted to recommend approval of the plan to the supervisors in January 2020. The engineer recommended approval to the commission.

When the supervisors considered the plan at a meeting on Feb. 12, 2020, Gauselmann told them the plan didn’t comply with the parking requirements in the township’s zoning ordinance, and he voiced concerns about the plan’s stormwater retention system, fire hydrants and screening.

A Martin representative verbally requested a modification from the ordinance’s screening and landscaping requirements, which the supervisors approved at the meeting. The supervisors then granted preliminary and final approval of the land development plan.

In June 2020, Gauselmann denied a building permit application from the architectural and engineering firm because an area with an impervious surface that was added to the plan didn’t comply with the land development plan, and the application had to be first approved by the township zoning hearing board.

He also informed the firm that a stormwater management plan for the project had to be submitted to and approved by the township planning commission and supervisors.

The property owner did not submit a storm water management plan, and the land development plan did not include screening required by the ordinance, according to the suit.

On Sept. 9, supervisors approved a motion saying their Feb. 12 action included approving the Martin plan, and the ordinance modifications that were verbally requested.

On Sept. 10, the supervisors asked Gauselmann to resign from his position as public works manager. He wrote to all of the supervisors, asking why he was asked to resign, but got no response, according to the suit.

The supervisors held an emergency meeting Sept. 17 to select a public works foreman to replace Gauselmann, whom they said had resigned Sept. 10. But he had never resigned, according to the suit.

On Oct. 27, the supervisors informed Gauselmann that he was suspended from his employment entirely, and the supervisors intended to consider terminating him Nov. 10. A supervisor said Gauselmann was suspended because he refused to issue the building permit. Supervisors voted 3-2 to terminate him on Nov. 17.

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