The longtime director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department was fired by Mayor Don Schonhardt last week for reasons that included seeking a "new direction," "progressive and reformative change within the department" and "failing to meet expectations of the position."

Meanwhile, recreation-programs manager Beth Simon will lead the department on an interim basis while Schonhardt considers a permanent successor to Steve Mazer.

Schonhardt, via a March 8 conference call with Mazer and Julia Baxter, the city's human-resources director, dismissed Mazer and appointed Simon as interim director, according to city spokesman Doug Francis.

The firing was announced March 8 via a city-issued statement from Schonhardt, saying Mazer's employment had been "terminated" and it was "effective immediately."

"The mayor felt for the betterment of the recreation and parks department that new leadership was in order, that a new direction was in order," Francis said.

Schonhardt's initial statement gave no reason for Mazer's termination and did not say if it had anything to do with a former parks official who was indicted March 1 for theft in office.

Former deputy director Heather H. Ernst faces eight felony counts related to the alleged theft of more than $540,000 from the city's two pool facilities.

Ernst, who resigned from her post Nov. 1, a few weeks before the investigation was made public Nov. 21, is scheduled for arraignment Friday, March 16, in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

"I'd like to understand the reason better," said Hilliard City Councilman Les Carrier, chairman of the recreation and parks committee, earlier this week. "The mayor owes us more clarity and we haven't been given that."

Schonhardt, who was out of state for the March 8 conference call, did not respond to calls seeking comment. He also was absent from the March 12 City Council meeting.

However, Francis provided a new statement from him March 13.

"I felt strongly that for the betterment of the recreation and parks department that new leadership was necessary to promote progressive and reformative change within the department," Schonhardt's statement said. "Mr. Mazer's termination was based on his job performance and failing to meet the expectations of the position ... and not one isolated incident."

ThisWeek requested and reviewed Mazer's personnel file, but it did not contain any documents specifically related to job performance or reviews.

When asked why performance reviews were not included, Baxter said they are not done for directors.

"All directors serve at the pleasure of the mayor," she said. "The mayor determined that Steve Mazer is not the best person to lead the department of recreation an parks in a new direction."

ThisWeek also was unable to reach Mazer, who had been the department director since March 3, 2008, for comment.

The March 8 statement said the city would begin the process of searching for Mazer's replacement as Simon leads in the interim.

Simon, who has been with the department 22 years, said she is pleased for the opportunity and wishes the best for Mazer.

"I am very dedicated to the city of Hilliard and the recreation and parks department," she said. "I will make sure all operations continue unfettered."

At the time of his dismissal, Mazer's annual salary as director of the department was $127,658, according to David Delande, the city's finance director, with a benefits package equal to 38 percent of the base salary, which means it is roughly $48,500 in value.

As acting interim director, Simon's annual salary will be $85,000, Delande said, and while serving in that capacity, she will forgo the annual salary of $65,128 she earns as recreation-programs manager, whose responsibilities she will retain.

Simon's benefits as acting director are equal to about 49 percent of the base salary, according to Delande, which is roughly $41,650.

As deputy director of the department, Ernst's annual salary was $88,281, with benefits equal to 49 percent of the base salary, or roughly $43,250.