When John Zelaska took over as police chief of Warrenton a year ago, he didn't know much about small town politics. Or country law enforcement. Or the gambling at the local firefighters' carnival.
Now he knows. And two weeks ago he turned in his badge.
"I found out they wanted the law enforced on some people and not on others," said the 43-year-old career police officer. "When the city hired me, they said they wanted a professional police department -- that's why I took the job.
"It just didn't work out," muttered Zelaska.
But some residents of this town of 4,000, the county seat of Fauquier County, have another explanation.
"I don't think he was used to the heat small town politics generates," said Fred Austin Jr., a freshman member of the Warrenton Town Council and one of the few town officials who would discuss the resignation.
In less than 12 months on the job, Zelaska and town officials agree, the police chief had incurred the ire of most local politicans (including Mayor J. Willard Lineweaver, who Zelaska claims hasn't spoken to him in two months.)
He has sparked a civil war between the police and fire departments.
And he has so infuriated the townsfolk that some suggested earlier this summer that the chief be shipped back to the Fairfax County Police Department, where he worked 21 years before taking the Warrenton job.
By Zelaska's own admission, the disagreements with the local citizenry began within weeks of his taking office last July.
First there was the case of the parking lot loiterers -- mostly young blacks, according to Zelaska, who had no place to hang out except the city's five municipal parking lots.
Zelaska says he wasn't too eager to enforce the anti-loitering ordinances, since he considered them both vague and unconstitutional.
Besides, he says, "If they (the loiterers) had been white, there wouldn't have been that much concern by the townspeople about enforcing the law."
The simmering feud reached the boiling point early this summer when Zelaska tried to infringe on a 57-year-old town tradition -- gambling at the volunteer fire department's annual carnival.
For years, two of the biggest attractions and most successful financial ventures at the carnival, a fund-raising event for the fire department, were the Beat the Dealer dice throw and Spin the Wheel roulette game.
But Zelaska ruled that rolling dice and playing roulette for profit were illegal under Virginia law, and thus, there could be no gambling booths sandwiched between the cotton candy stand and merry-go-round.
Ridiculous, protested volunteer fire chief Sam Tarr, who argued at the time there was a difference between gambling for personal gain and gambling to help a charitable cause.
"I don't say they're illegal games," Tarr said at the height of the dispute. "I call them questionable."
Zelaska shot back: "If it had been anybody (else) gambling, we would have stopped it. Nobody can give anybody else permission to break the law."
Despite the well-publicized flap over carnival gambling, Zelaska says the controversy was not the major reason he decided to leave Warrenton law enforcement to someone else.
"Being in police work as long as I have, problems like that don't bother me," he said. "It was not getting public support from the politicians or citizens that bothered me."
Some town officials, however, have a different view of the matter.
"I don't think he was used to people complaining directly to him," said Council Member Austin. "In Fairfax, where he was a captain, he was insulated from the people and their complaints. Here they take them directly to the police chief."
Not everyone in Warrenton opposed Zelaska and his attempts to bring more professionalism to the police department.
"It's time Warrenton had to grow up," said one resident. "Someone coming in new, dedicated to law enforcement, was totally out of place here."
After resigning Aug. 7, Zelaska took a job as an internal investigator with an international corporation, but he hasn't given up on law enforcement or Warrenton.
"Every career law enforcement officer wants to become a chief of police eventually," said Zelaska.
As for Warrenton: "Don't get me wrong, it's a nice town."
Warrenton officials now are looking for a new police chief. In the meantime, former chief H.B. Jones, who held the job almost 20 years before Zelaska succeeded him, has taken over temporarily.
And despite their conflicts with Zelaska, some city officials concede that as a result of Zelaka's short tenure, there probably will be some changes in the way the law is enforced.
"The man has made us aware of the law," said Austin. "It wasn't a question of us ignoring the law in the past. Sometimes when you've been doing something for that long, it doesn't occur to you it might be wrong. It has occurred to us now."