AVON — The city’s new grounds manager has a criminal record that includes being charged with theft and assault, but Mayor Bryan Jensen said despite his past, Steve Hanzal was the best candidate of the five applicants.
Hanzal, 40, was hired by the city April 22. Jensen said Hanzal is in charge of about five or six people in the Grounds Department. Records show he makes $27 an hour at his position, which has a salary range of $27 to $30.
Jensen said he was aware of Hanzal’s history before hiring him.
The most recent incident involving Hanzal was an assault charge on Aug. 19, 2017, on Kelleys Island. Police reported that when officers arrived on the scene, Hanzal had blood coming from his ear, and that he had been in a fight with another man.
Police noted in a report that that the fight was instigated by Hanzal pushing a woman to the ground, causing her to hit her head. The woman pressed assault charges against Hanzal, who pleaded guilty in Erie County Municipal Court to personal disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to two years of probation.
Earlier the same day, police reported that Hanzal was charged with an open container violation when police reported he had an open beer while riding on a golf cart. Court records on the charge couldn’t be found as of press deadline.
Earlier — in 2003 — Avon Lake police charged Hanzal with the theft of two lawn mowers from a power equipment store. The incident occurred April 4. Police conducted an investigation and charged Hanzal at a later time. Police reported that two men were seen loading the equipment into a truck. The witness gave police the license plate number of the truck, which identified the vehicle as Hanzal’s. The owner told police that Hanzal had been in the store with the other suspect earlier in the week.
Hanzal originally denied any involvement to police. He later pleaded guilty to attempted theft in Avon Lake Municipal Court. He was given a suspended 90-day jail sentence and ordered to pay $836.50 in restitution.
Hanzal also was charged with driving under the influence on April 13, 2005, in Avon. Police report the Hanzal was pulled over after driving at a high rate of speed on Stoney Ridge Road. Hanzal failed three field-sobriety tests and was arrested. He was then given a breath test which resulted in a 0.123 percent blood-alcohol content. Ohio law deems a driver too impaired to be behind the wheel at 0.08 percent. Hanzal pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Avon Lake Municipal Court, according to court records. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail with 27 suspended, and served his time at a driver intervention program.
On April 26, 2007, Hanzal was charged for consumption in a moving vehicle in Sheffield. Police reported that an officer pulled up to a car parked on Detroit Road and noticed a female driver with a beer in the vehicle. The driver told police the beer belonged to her passenger who wasn’t in the vehicle, and the officer confirmed the can was cold and one-third full. Hanzal then returned to the car with a 12-pack of Bud Light in hand, and told officers the open beer was his. He pleaded guilty to the charge in Avon Lake Municipal Court.
Jensen said Hanzal was open about his past before being hired and that the city did run a background check and look at the police reports. Five applicants sought the position, and Jensen said Hanzal had the best application.
“Steve having a landscape business before that, he probably had the best application of all the people we interviewed,” Jensen said.
The other four candidates had backgrounds that included past experience in working as supervisors in city parks departments, as well as owning their own landscaping companies. Another already is a city employee.
The position is not union-protected, about which Jensen said other candidates expressed concerns. Some candidates also did not come in for a second interview when requested. Ultimately, Hanzal was the only candidate who was offered the position.
Jensen said he couldn’t hold Hanzal’s record against him because none of the charges rose above a misdemeanor, and that many of them were older. He said he stressed to Hanzal before hiring him that these kinds of things couldn’t happen if he was hired.
“What I stressed to Steve before we hired him was the fact that this is his second chance,” Jensen said.
Jensen said he and the administration are monitoring Hanzal, and that he has conversations with Hanzal on the topic at least each month.
“The one thing I try to stress to anybody is the fact that, in the city of Avon, you’re a government official,” Jensen said. “You are held to a higher standard.”
Several messages left for Hanzal by The Chronicle-Telegram were not returned.
Police Chief Richard Bosley said he reviewed Hanzal’s police records in Avon before he was hired. He said when looking at Hanzal’s incidents, he didn’t see any concerns.
“Things were older for the most part, and nothing to me was a big red flag,” Bosley said.
City Council President Craig Witherspoon said he wasn’t aware of Hanzal’s history before he was hired, and said that the City Council wasn’t involved in the hiring process. He did meet Hanzal after he was hired and said he was a “competent individual.”
He said he supports the mayor’s decision to give Hanzal a second chance, and hasn’t changed his opinion on the hire after hearing about Hanzal’s record.
“I was at the time happy with his hire and I still am,” Witherspoon said. “I think he’s doing a pretty good job.”