Carol Stream battalion chief's termination hearing starts

A lawyer for the Carol Stream Fire Protection District says the charges leveled against Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles are "straightforward" - among them that he twice refused to sign a performance improvement plan, that "his peers do not trust him as a manager," and that he twice fell asleep in meetings.

"Fire Chief Richard Kolomay has responded to Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles' performance deficiencies since he's become chief in 2010," said Karl Ottosen, Kolomay's attorney. "Lack of trust by his peers in his leadership abilities, hygiene issues, weight issues, communication issues."

The termination hearing began Wednesday for Gilles, charged by Chief Kolomay for twice refusing to sign a performance improvement plan in what Kolomay's lawyers have termed a "serious breach of conduct."

Gilles' attorneys have countered that their client fell into disfavor after he was asked to investigate reports of negligence by a paramedic stemming from a call on Aug. 25, 2012.

On Friday, attorneys for the family of 81-year-old Armida Nonneman of Carol Stream, who died three days after the paramedic call, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the village and paramedic Carey Zabran, alleging negligence.

"On Aug. 25, 2012, everything started to change for Joe Gilles," said Aldo Botti, attorney for Gilles, during Wednesday's proceedings. "For 18 years, Joe worked for your fire district and did an excellent job. You can't deny his rights, whether the chief likes him or not."

Gilles was the first witness called Wednesday. He confirmed under questioning that an evaluation from 2007 stated that he "needs to work to earn the respect of his peers," and that his "uniform appearance was not up to acceptable standards."

Gilles' lawyers had made assertions that his weight remained essentially the same since being hired, but Gilles confirmed that his listed weight at time of application in 1995 was 240 pounds and his weight on a February physical was 361.

An email from Kolomay dated Sept. 10, 2012, directed Gilles to get specific questions answered by eight people responding to the paramedic call. Gilles sent a Kolomay a summary of his investigation three weeks later, stating that based on his review, the paramedic's performance was below standards. Gilles recommended disciplinary actions for a lieutenant and two paramedics.

However, Gilles later confirmed that his report did not contain any recommendations to contact Central DuPage Hospital, where Nonneman died, the coroner's office or Nonneman's family with results of his investigation, which is contrary to previous claims.

Ottosen alleged that Gilles twice fell asleep during meetings in April 2013, including one time during an emergency operation meeting after flooding in the area, when the village's police chief videotaped Gilles sleeping. Gilles was found "unfit for duty," pending a sleep study.

The performance improvement plan, or PIP, which was presented to Gilles on July 27, cited three core issues from informal reviews, including that Gilles "lacks proper management skills," "doesn't garner the respect of his peers," and his peers "do not trust him as a manager or leader."

"A criticism exists that Battalion Chief Gilles does not create any level of expectations within his shift," Ottosen said, reading from the PIP.

Gilles was ordered to report back on July 29 with the signed PIP or there would be formal termination charges. Gilles reported for work that day in a new uniform, brought in flowers and bagels for staff - but told Kolomay he wasn't going to sign the PIP.

A letter from Kolomay on Aug. 3 gave Gilles three options - signed approval of the PIP, to "amicably separate from the district," or to not sign the PIP, commencing termination hearings. Gilles did not choose an option, and in an Aug. 19 email, Kolomay explained to Gilles possible charges for termination and the option for a separation agreement.

Before the hearing, a motion was granted that testimony given, or evidence presented, related to the Aug. 25, 2012, paramedic call would be presented in closed session. Kolomay's attorneys made the motion not to allow testimony about the incident in light of the pending lawsuit. The hearing resumes at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

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