Lolli says he’s ready for challenge to serve as Middletown’s fire chief, acting city manager

He was named to the position after City Council voted to remove Jim Palenick

As a member of the Middletown Division of Fire for the last 32 years, Chief Paul Lolli is used to the heat.

Now he finds himself on the hot seat.

After the city of Middletown and Jim Palenick, its city manager, signed an agreement for his removal after less than two years, Lolli was named acting city manager while continuing as fire chief.

Middletown City Council conducted a special meeting Monday morning, then went into executive session for the second time in one week. After the session, council voted 5-0 to remove Palenick.

Vice Mayor Monica Nenni said when council considered Palenick’s replacement Lolli was the “obvious choice” because he has been “a staple of Middletown for years and will bring a consistency to the city manager’s office that is needed right now.”

Lolli, 60, is scheduled to retire as fire chief, a position he has held for seven years, no later than Feb. 28, 2024, he said.

Paid $116,362.48 annually as fire chief, he will earn an additional $1,293.75 every two weeks to serve as interim city manager, according to his contract.

Palenick was paid $165,000 annually as city manager. The city agreed to pay him a gross sum of $128,764.67 for six months salary, benefits and accrued time off, according to the separation agreement that he and Law Director Ben Yoder signed.

Ami Victori, who served four years on city council, called Palenick “an impressive, consummate professional” who was hired to bring his “extensive experience” to Middletown to usher in much needed transformational change.

“It has become apparent that is not a good match for the city,” she said.

This is an interesting time in the city’s history.

A $51 million, three-year major paving project continues throughout the city and Palenick was instrumental in the Central Avenue improvement project that recently started; planning the transformation of the Towne Mall and redeveloping the Ohio 4 corridor; preparing the City’s Comprehensive Plan; working on the city’s Parks Master Plan; and addressing the city’s homeless population by possibly purchasing pallet houses.

He also supported a proposed $1.3 billion Hollywoodland project, an entertainment destination that was opposed by several Middletown residents and never reached a vote from council.

Middletown is without its top two officials after Assistant City Manager Susan Cohen recently accepted an administrator position with Union Twp. in Clermont County.

Lolli will oversee the city’s 375 employees, 11 departments, and $125 million budget while trying to convince Middletown residents to pass a 1-mill property tax levy on May 3 that would generate $16.8 million to build four fire stations.

Lolli, a Middletown native, said he never figured he’d serve as acting city manager, but he’s “prepared” for the role.

“I’m ready for the challenge,” he told the Journal-News after the executive session. “We’re going to do good things.”

Mayor Nicole Condrey said Middletown “has turned a corner, and the sun is shining brightly.”

Lolli said he and Palenick had “a great working relationship” and Palenick accomplished “a lot of positive” during his tenure as leader of Butler County’s second largest city.

Palenick, who started in July 2020, succeeded former city manager Doug Adkins, who was terminated by Middletown City Council in December 2019.

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