Middletown removes city manager after fewer than 2 years

Middletown City Manager Jim Palenick speaks at a groundbreaking for Phoenix Metals at MADE Industrial Park in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Middletown City Manager Jim Palenick speaks at a groundbreaking for Phoenix Metals at MADE Industrial Park in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Fire Chief Paul Lolli named acting city manager during search for Jim Palenick’s replacement

For the third time in eight years, the city of Middletown is looking for a city manager.

Jim Palenick, who served as city manager for less than two years, and the city of Middletown signed a mutual separation agreement Monday morning, ending his tenure as leader of Butler County’s second largest city.

Middletown City Council met in executive session Monday morning, then voted 5-0 to separate from Palenick, who started in July 2020.

Fire Chief Paul Lolli, 60, was named acting city manager and will continue as fire chief. Lolli, who has served the city for 32 years, including seven years as chief, is scheduled to retire in less than two years, he said.

Lolli, a Middletown native, is paid $116,362.48 annually as fire chief and he will earn an additional $1,293.75 every two weeks to serve as interim city manager, according to his contract.

Lolli will oversee the city’s 375 employees, 11 departments, and $125 million budget.

“When considering this opening, Chief Lolli was the obvious choice,” said Vice Mayor Monica Nenni. “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.”

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.

Middletown’s Assistant City Manager Susan Cohen has accepted an administrator position with Union Twp. in Clermont County.

Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey said she was “grateful” for Lolli’s continued willingness to “step up to the plate, this time in a new capacity.”

During several council meetings, Condrey questioned some of the Palenick’s decisions, especially the proposed $1.3 billion Hollywoodland, an entertainment destination, that was criticized by Middletown residents and never was voted on by council.

She said city council decided to separate from Palenick from “unique and different angles” and was “strongly united in the end.”

Then she added: “Middletown has turned a corner, and the sun is shining brightly.”

First-year council member Rodney Muterspaw said he was “excited for the future” and wished Palenick the “absolute best.”

Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith also wished Palenick well.

“City management is a tough profession,” he said. “You have numerous constituencies, must make many difficult decisions on a weekly basis, and need to strike a balance between management and leadership.”

Smith said it can take a city manager “years to create the plans, organizational structure, and controls necessary to move a city forward.”

As part of the separation settlement, Palenick agreed that he will not make “disparaging statements” about council or his employment by council.

Council agrees to provide a “neutral” employment reference for Palenick when contacted by a potential employer, according to the agreement.

Now without a city manager or assistant city manager, Middletown has major economic development plans in the works, including the redevelopment of the Ohio 4 corridor; the transformation of the Towne Mall; and a ballot issue in May to build new fire stations. Palenick has met extensively with leaders in Butler and Warren counties on the Ohio 4 corridor and Towne Mall projects.

In 2020, Palenick, who was the city administrator in Racine, Wisc., was named city manager after he was selected from a field of 22 applicants.

Palenick succeeded former city manager Doug Adkins, who was terminated by Middletown City Council in December 2019 after five years.

Staff writer Michael Pitman contributed to this report.

Middletown City Managers

1956 to 2022

Charlie Thompson, March 1956-March 1964

Dan Kothe, June 1964-September 1970

Dale Helsel, October 1970-May 1985

William Burns, October 1985-January 1988

William Klosterman, July 1988-August 1992

Ron Olsen, November 1992-November 2004

William Becker, March 2005-March 2007

Judith Gilleland, January 2008-July 2014

Douglas Adkins, July 2014-Dec. 17, 2019

James M. Palenick, July 13, 2020-March 14, 2022

SOURCE: City of Middletown

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