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updated: 2/14/2014 12:34 AM

Carol Stream Battalion Chief: PIP was 'Designed for me to fail'

Carol Stream fire official fights firing

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Joseph Gilles claims he refused to sign a performance improvement plan given to him by Carol Stream Fire Protection District Chief Richard Kolomay in July 2013 because "It was vague, all subjective, with no objective standards," and that Kolomay was looking for ways to get rid of him.

"It was designed for me to fail," said Gilles, a Carol Stream Fire Battalion Chief in the second day of his termination hearing. "It was gossip and hearsay. I had seen it used against Carey Zabran and I believe it would be used against me."

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Gilles is charged by Chief Kolomay for twice refusing to sign the performance improvement plan, or PIP, among the allegations levied against him.

Gilles and his attorneys have claimed that the attempts at termination are retaliation in the aftermath of Gilles' investigation into reports of negligence by Zabran, a paramedic no longer with the district, stemming from a call on Aug. 25, 2012.

On Feb. 7 attorneys for the family of 81-year-old Armida Nonneman -- who died three days after the paramedics were called as Nonneman was choking -- filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the village and Zabran alleging negligence.

Under questioning Thursday from his attorney Aldo Botti, Gilles testified that he was first asked to investigate the actions of eight employees on the paramedic call by Kolomay after the chief received concerns from a "credible outside complainant."

Gilles' investigation concluded that "discipline was warranted" for Zabran and that her actions or lack of actions "rises to the level of termination."

"I was advised (by Kolomay) that I should not have put in my report that she should have been terminated," Gilles said, "because it would subject the district to legal action."

Zabran was not terminated, but Gilles said that months later he was directed by Kolomay to prepare a schedule for her in conforming with her own PIP to gauge her progress. Gilles said the PIP, however, made no reference to the Aug. 25, 2012, paramedic call. Gilles said he reported back to Kolomay that Zabran was making progress.

"He wasn't happy about that," Gilles said. "She wasn't ever supposed to pass the (PIP). It was a document set up for her to fail."

Karl Ottosen, an attorney for Kolomay, later said in questioning that Zabran failed the PIP because she did not meet the physical fitness standards of an outside party, Cadence Health.

In May 2013 Gilles said he was directed by Kolomay to go for an exam at Cadence for possible narcolepsy after Gilles was alleged to have twice fallen asleep at meetings in April. Gilles said he was subjected to three exams in May and, after the third, was released for full duty with no restrictions.

On May 30 Gilles said he received an email saying he had been put on paid administrative leave. In July he received an email to report to the chief at Ottosen's law office to review and present disciplinary charges and a performance improvement plan. On July 17, Gilles said, he went to Ottosen's office, where he was presented with three written reprimands and the PIP.

"I had lots of questions, but I was afraid to ask them," Gilles said. "I felt panic. I thought I was going to be fired."

Under questioning from Ottosen, Gilles confirmed that, in a 2005 evaluation, he received four "2" ratings, signifying that the employee needs "more than the average amount of supervision." A 2007 evaluation, when Gilles was a lieutenant, commented that "remember your shift is watching, that they expect you to be a leader" and that "I would also like to see you in a weight room." Gilles earlier said that his last evaluation was in 2007.

A weight issue is among the performance deficiencies alleged against Gilles -- he weighed 240 pounds on his 1995 application and 361 at a physical in February 2013 -- but he claimed that nothing was said to him his first 10 years at the district other than "sometimes people would give me grief."

"I believe this here is a combination of my weight, and retaliation," Gilles said.

Gilles, hired in 1995, was promoted to lieutenant in 2005 and promoted again to battalion chief in 2008. He formally received a complaint from the chief Sept. 24, 2013, which has led to the termination hearings.The hearing will resume at 4 p.m. today.

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