Council hears Greek Cuisina owner “hit squad” complaint

Greek Cuisina owner Ted Papas took his complaints about being a victim of Commissioner Randy Leonard’s “hit squad” to the council today.

The squad, a partnership between police, fire and building code inspectors that deals with hazardous buildings, has one mission, Papas insisted: “To put me out of business.”

The council was considering a lien on the property at 418 S.W. Washington St, to recover $79,925, the cost of a private security firm hired by the fire bureau to conduct a “fire watch” at the popular restaurant building after the fire marshal determined Papas had failed to properly maintain the watch himself and had violated other provisions of an agreement designed to keep him in business while he cleared up code violations.

“Politics is the art of compromise,” said Leonard. “But when it comes to protection of the public, I’m uncompromising. I have removed people who have died in fires,” the former firefighter said. “It steels you.”

Fire Marshal John Nohr told the council that an inspection in May had revealed 50 fire code violations, and the inspector ordered all but the first and second floors of the building closed, except for retrieval of stock or supplies.

A subsequent inspection found continuing violations, and Papas agreed to provide the fire watch, in which a person checks for signs of fire every 30 minutes, and call 9-1-1 if a fire breaks out. But a month later, a check discovered the person assigned to the fire watch was asleep, and had no way to call 9-1-1.

That’s when the bureau hired a security firm to provide the protection, and billed Papas, who has refused to pay.

Papas said the violations were based on “lies and fabrications.” He claimed to have a working sprinkler system and said he has done everything the city asked of him.

Leonard defended his team, stressing that the city has tried hard to accommodate Papas.

“We are walking a fine line here. How do I explain to the public if something happens, that we allowed it to stay open? I’d be hard pressed to explain why we were so lenient.”

At the request of Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the council agreed to remove the emergency clause, delaying the vote for one week.

A city hearings officer has upheld the Portland Fire Bureau’s actions to prevent a fire at the Greek Cusina Restaurant in downtown.

The bureau has required owner Ted Papas to hire a private security firm to tour the six-story building at 404 S.W. Washington St. every 30 minutes round-the-clock to watch for a possible fire.

The restaurant has a history of fire, building and electrical code violations, and city inspectors consider it a hazard. Papas has said he will address the violations, and officials say they want to keep him in business while he does so. The city has paid almost $200,000 for the security guards, but says Papas now must assume that responsibility. The city has a lien against the property.

Papas filed an appeal, raising legal questions about the inspections and arguing that the city used a “hit squad” that unfairly zeroed in on his business.

Hearings Officer Gregory Frank said the city acted in good faith and ordered Papas to maintain the 24-hour fire watch until the city determines that the alarm and sprinkler systems are adequate and the violations are corrected. If these terms aren’t met, then the city can shut the restaurant down.

Frank said the city was justified in focusing attention on the Greek Cusina, given its history of violations, and there was no evidence that Papas was singled out because of who he is.

— James Mayer:

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