Freedom Township zoning inspector resigns from ‘thankless job’

The zoning inspector of Freedom Township, Gerald Apple, stepped down last week, saying he was harassed and micromanaged by a trustee.

The trustee, John Zizka, denied the allegations.

Apple served as the township’s zoning inspector since Oct. 16. With his departure, Assistant Zoning Inspector Laura Chartier is in charge of enforcing the township’s zoning codes. 

“It’s a thankless job,” Trustee Roy Martin said after the trustee’s June 17 meeting. “He had enough of it and gave it up.” 

Martin declined further comment on a matter he said was between Apple and Zizka.

In a statement to The Portager, Apple said the job is high stress, because it involves confronting township residents about zoning violations, but only pays $400 a month.

“The zoning inspector is tasked with telling residents that they have too much clutter in their yards or that they have junk cars parked in their driveway,” he said. “There is no joy informing someone that the structure that was recently constructed did not have a permit issued and that they could be subject to having to remove it or face legal action.”

All the while, Apple said, Zizka was constantly calling and checking up on him, and micromanaging every aspect of his job. Apple believes zoning inspectors should have autonomy to interpret the zoning codes free of interference from the trustees: “To do so is a conflict of interest.”

For Apple, the last straw was when he issued an agricultural exemption for a township resident, along with the necessary permit. He took it as a personal affront when Zizka challenged the permit with the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“There are few people who would fight to keep a job such as this one, even without being subjected to a barrage of toxic criticism,” Apple wrote. “As a result of the harsh work environment and unpleasant verbal attacks, along with a perceived lack of support by the Trustees as a group, I decided to submit my resignation.”

Zizka, who has served as a township trustee since 1999, said he filed the zoning appeal because it was his right, and he did so within the letter of the law.

“This was a blatant violation,” he said. “The property he issued the agricultural exemption for is located directly across from the town hall on state Route 303 and is not used for agricultural purposes.”

And Zizka disagreed with Apple’s contention that trustees should not direct a zoning inspector’s work. 

“He is no different than the road crew or the cleaning lady. He is an employee of the township. and is accountable to the trustees,” he said. “I never threatened the man, I never swore at the man, I never touched the man. If he thinks directing him to do his job is bullying, then that’s his interpretation.”

Township Trustee Jeff Derthick could not be reached for comment.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.