Friday, July 27, 2001

Fighting firing

Candidate in Mason suing city

        John Paquette believes he can fight city hall. And win an election, too.

        If he succeeds at the polls, he will serve on Mason's seven-member City Council.

        But, he'll have won more than a seat in city hall. He will become one of the bosses of the people who once fired him.

        The irony in this possible sequence of events heightened my curiosity. So, I asked John to tell me his story.

        He used to be a part-time firefighter for the city of Mason. He lost his job in March.

        He claims officials of the Warren County city fired him for sending an anonymous e-mail message to members of the fire department.

        John told me the e-mail called attention to safety concerns raised by reduced staffing and the shortcomings of Fire Chief H. Michael Drumm.

        Dogged by controversy, the chief resigned in May.

        But not before the city fired John Paquette.

        John appealed to Mason officials to get his job back.

        It pays $9.73 an hour.

        He doesn't need the money.

        “I have a great full-time job,” he said. “I drive a nice car and live in a big house.”

        He spent 2 1/2 years fighting fires and became an emergency medical technician for one reason. “I wanted to give something back to my community.

        “Other than my wife and my babies and my full-time job, being a firefighter is the one thing I adore.”

        Some people golf. Others bowl.

        John Paquette's different. “I like to fight fires and help people.”

        Exhausting his appeals, he sued Mason and a raft of city officials in June. His federal lawsuit claims his civil rights were violated. The suit seeks at least $3 million in damages and the return of John's old job.

        Mason City Manager Scot Lahrmer has said John was “justifiably terminated.”

        I'm not going to debate the merits of John's case against Mason and its officials. That's for a court of law to decide.

        I am interested in finding out what moved him — one week after suing Mason — to run for City Council. Thirteen Mason-ites have taken out petitions to land one of the four seats that will be filled in November. Of the 13 prospective candidates, four have turned in their petitions. Included in that number is John Paquette.

        “I'm running because I don't want to be known as the town crank,” he said.

        “I don't just blow the whistle, get fired and then sue the city.

        “I want to put my skin in the game.”

        This is his first try for public office. He's running on a platform to make Mason more customer-friendly.

        “Mason's government has been too arrogant to its people,” he said. “The city must keep its customers satisfied.”

        John swears his name is not on the ballot out of revenge.

        “It's not about payback,” he said. “It's about what's good for the community.”

        No matter how his lawsuit turns out, the effects of the Paquette for Council campaign could spill over Mason's borders.

        His cause could give pause to city officials everywhere. The next time they consider sacking an employee, they might think twice. That worker they're about to fire could become one of the city's bosses on Election Day.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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