Carol Stream fire battalion chief suspended without pay after claiming cover up

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 2:50 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Dec. 8, 2014 2:09 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Lee V. Gaines for Shaw Media)
Carol Stream Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles (left) was suspended without pay by the Fire District Board of Commissioners at a termination hearing Monday night.

CAROL STREAM – A Carol Stream Fire Protection District battalion chief who said he is facing termination for refusing to cover up negligence in the district will no longer receive pay.

Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles, an 18-year district veteran, was suspended earlier this year after being charged with insubordination by District Chief Richard Kolomay for failing to sign a performance improvement plan.

At a termination hearing for Gilles Monday night, a motion to suspend him without pay was unanimously approved by the Fire District Board of Commissioners at the request of Kolomay's attorney, Karl Otteson.

After being relieved of his duties in September, Gilles was paid using accrued vacation and personal time until it ran out three weeks ago. He has since been on paid leave.

Otteson argued that the insubordination charges levied against Gilles are "very serious allegations and a serious breach of conduct."

The commission is authorized to suspend a district employee for up to 30 days without pay, according to Otteson.

Gilles' attorney, John Botti, argued that the district has, by using his client's accrued vacation and personal time, "taken his money from him."

The controversy surrounding the possible termination stems from a choking incident that occurred in August of 2012, in which, according to Botti, a paramedic failed to follow protocol. The woman who choked on a piece of food later died in the hospital, and questions were subsequently raised as to whether the district handled the incident properly.

Kolomay instructed Gilles to conduct an internal investigation, Botti said, after which Gilles recommended the paramedic be fired.

Instead, the woman was told to sign a performance improvement plan and Gilles was told to oversee her completion of the plan, which he later said was satisfactory, though he still recommended she be terminated.

The paramedic eventually resigned and Gilles was asked to sign and complete a similar plan related to issues cited by Kolomay, according to Botti.

Gilles refused to sign the plan, worried that it would lead to his termination from the district, Botti said.

At the hearing on Monday night, Botti also said his client refused to sign the plan because he believed he would be signing something illegal.

Otteson argued that Gilles had plenty of time to raise questions about the plan and to question its legality.

"To now come in and make this big allegation ... is just a little too late for us to take seriously," Otteson said.

On behalf of his client, Botti filed several motions to dismiss Kolomay's complaint against Gilles based on a lack of specificity in the charges outlined, and said it was a result of retaliation and that Gilles was not properly informed of his rights. All were denied at the recommendation of the board's attorney, Jim Knippen.

Otteson, on behalf of Kolomay, filed a motion to prohibit any evidence from the August 2012 choking incident from being introduced into the hearings.

The motion was denied by the board after Knippen said it was too early in the process to determine whether or not the evidence was relevant.

A motion to continue the hearing until a later date was approved by the board so attorneys on both sides could interview witnesses and collect information.

The board agreed to reconvene on Jan. 3 to set a firm hearing date for the presentation of evidence.

"It will be a long, drawn out process and we won't be done with this for several months," said Otteson in an interview after the meeting.

Botti said the issue revolves around the performance improvement plan, which he described as "an illegal document not sanctioned by this board," after the meeting.

For his part, Gilles said he was disappointed with the hearing's outcome.

"You work so long for a place, and to be treated like this," he said.

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