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Allegheny County Department of Public Works director replaced by deputy

| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 11:14 a.m.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald continued his shake-up of county government this week by replacing Public Works Director Joe Olczak with a deputy.

Olczak, 64, of Ross, who has headed the department since 2008, learned on Wednesday that he was out of a job during a regular monthly meeting with county Manager William McKain. He said McKain handed him a letter saying his services were no longer needed but did not give him an explanation.

Olczak spent most of Thursday filling out unemployment forms, something he said he never thought he'd have to do after 37 years as a county employee. He said he did not have any disagreements with Fitzgerald and didn't know what prompted the firing.

“You would think if you were doing something contrary to what they wanted, they'd call you in and give you an opportunity to fulfill their vision. That never happened,” Olczak said. “Anybody would be disappointed or taken aback. After 37 years, I pretty much proved myself.”

County spokeswoman Amie Downs called it a “personnel matter” and said Fitzgerald would not discuss it. She said Fitzgerald and McKain continue to evaluate each department.

“Yes, the executive expects there will be additional changes,” Downs said.

Olczak, who was paid a salary of $98,345, was among several department heads who appeared on Monday with Fitzgerald at a news conference announcing preparations for Hurricane Sandy.

“I have no idea. I thought he was aces,” Councilman Nick Futules, D-Oakmont, a member of the Public Works Committee, said when asked about Olczak's departure. “He's a good guy.”

The county promoted Deputy Director Phil LaMay to acting director at Olczak's former salary while it searches for a permanent replacement, Downs said.

Former Executive Dan Onorato promoted Olczak to the director's job in 2008.

“I think the chief executive wants to go in his own direction,” said Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, who heads the Public Works Committee and learned about the decision Wednesday evening.

“Joe was a great director, but like any other administration, you bring on your own people or ask people to retire because you want to have your own team,” Macey said. “I guess Rich Fitzgerald didn't think Joe Olczak fit on his team.”

Fitzgerald, who took office in January, has replaced 10 of 22 department heads or cabinet members. In August, he said that “some departments are not performing the way they should,” but he would not name which ones.

Last month, Fitzgerald announced he would create a department charged with the upkeep of county buildings. The proposed Facilities Management Department will have a $20.9 million budget, largely paid for by shifting personnel from Public Works and Administrative Services.

That announcement was made when Controller Chelsa Wagner released a report detailing problems with the 82-year-old Fourth Avenue parking garage, which Fitzgerald closed in February because it was in poor shape.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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