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One Ridgewood Firefighter Promoted, Another Demoted After Civil Service Ruling

State's civil service commission found John Albano – largely based on veteran status – should have been promoted to captain in 2011 and is owed back pay; Robert Kozielski has been returned to lieutenant.

The New Jersey Civil Service Commission in August found a Ridgewood firefighter was improperly denied a promotion, and now the village has retroactively promoted him while effectively demoting the man who originally took his spot.

At its Aug. 1 meeting, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission granted an appeal by then-lieutenant John Albano on the grounds that the village violated civil service laws by denying him a promotion to captain in 2011.

Village Manager Ken Gabbert, who makes the promotions, told Patch Wednesday night that the ruling was largely attributed to Albano holding military veteran status, and thus, was found to be more qualified as a captain than Robert Kozielski, who received the appointment for the third captain's position in June of 2011.

"The veterans status did not come up at all during the interviews," Gabbert said, adding that the village will not be appealing the civil service ruling.

Albano's labor attorney, Emil Cuccio, was not immediately available to comment Thursday.

Albano, on the paid force since 1984, has retroactively been named a captain to June 1, 2011. Gabbert said Albano is owed a "huge amount of backpay," in excess of $10,000. The employee action forms have not been received so the exact figure was not yet known, Gabbert said.

Meanwhile, Kozielski, a firefighter in Ridgewood since 1985, has been "returned" to his position as a lieutenant, Gabbert said. Kozielski made $147,566 in his stint as captain and won't be docked any of that pay.

"Because he would have been in an acting captain status either way, the dollars worked out the same so we did not recover that," Gabbert said. "No money was taken from him."

In other words, the village paid for four captains over the last year when its departmental structure calls for three captains. As a top lieutenant, Kozielski going forward will be making slightly less, $141,300, Gabbert said. He could not comment on any potential litigation involving Kozielski.

Kozielski himself declined to comment when reached Thursday night.

In its ruling, the civil service board also moved up the promotion of Chris DuFlocq to captain by a week, resulting in a back pay of just under $100, according to officials.

Ridgewood Fire Department Chief Jim Van Goor said Albano and Kozielski will simply reverse roles, and the switch won't have an impact on the operations of the department.

"Captain Albano will do an excellent job," Gabbert told Patch. "He's been a phenomenal lieutenant. Nothing at all in these promotions is aimed at saying anything negative about the two captains who were already there. In the case of Bob [Kozielski], he served well as a captain and this is just a ruling of the civil service [commission]."

Mayor Paul Aronsohn, citing personnel and legal issues, declined to comment on the matter.

Ridgewood early this year lost a civil suit filed by firefighter Kevin Reilly that he was denied a promotion to lieutenant because he blew the whistle on an incident in which claimed he was ordered to enter a building without proper safety gear. His $3.5 million jury award was reduced to $500,000.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor James Kleimann at James.Kleimann@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Boyd A. Loving September 21, 2012 at 12:42 AM
"The veterans status did not come up at all during the interviews," Gabbert said, . . Meaning what exactly? That the interviewer/decision maker was unaware of Mr. Albano's military service record (duh?), or that the interviewer/decision maker was unaware of NJ Civil Service regulations with respect to veteran status (duh?)? Also, I'm a bit disappointed in our Mayor's refusal to comment on the matter. Despite "personnel and legal" issues, our Village Manager and Fire Chief (members of the Village leadership team) both offered comments. What gives?
Long Time Resident September 21, 2012 at 01:21 AM
I expect the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Village to know what the Civil Service rules and procedures are for promotions when he assumes the responsibility of making promotion decisions. Mr. Gabbert should have known the veterans status of all of the promotional candidates when he made his decision. It would appear that our Village Manager either didn't do his due diligence, or worse, didn't care about Civil Service rules when making this decision. This is the second time Mr. Gabbert has passed over a member of the fire department for promotion. The last time he did this it cost the town $500,000.00. This time Mr. Gabberts mistake will only cost the Village residents $10,000.00. How many mistakes will it take before our council wakes up and replaces Mr. Gabbert with a competent CEO.
AMAMOM September 21, 2012 at 02:14 AM
"Gabbert said Albano is owed a "huge amount of backpay," in excess of $10,000 " I had to chuckle, really a one time payment of $10k is a huge amount of money??? So, does an annual raise of $12k qualify as an even huger amount of money? LOL
Patrick Allin September 21, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Albano should not accept backpay for work that he did not do.
J.C. Lee September 21, 2012 at 09:45 AM
The employee is entitled to every dollar of that money. The village violated the law and should have known better.
Mikka H September 21, 2012 at 10:39 AM
everyone knows that Gabbert had a beef with John because of his stance on protecting the department from his wildly swinging axe...his response was to simply put the screws to john in the form passing him on a promotion as a way to let him know to whom he was messing with.....he knew full well of John's background.... this is who's running the viiage.....a village idiot....and one again we have a problem and we move on to the next without any accountability......what a waste....
RB September 21, 2012 at 01:40 PM
More wasted money.
jp1 September 21, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Whether the firemen are worth the money or not it seems to me that we are paying a lot of people a lot of money. I will say they are worth more than the police.
Bill Connor September 21, 2012 at 03:32 PM
What Part of this Exchange represents the challenges of the Average Family in Ridgewood with a Family , Perhaps some Children Bills /high Taxes and Morgage /Colledge funding etc as they try to plan for their Kids futures and Retirement perhaps by 80, The Salaries here are incredible - no less the Pension and Heath care Cost of the Ridgewood Operations.We need some new Thinking or ways to Create wider Tax base ( yes change and Growth) to support Current Obligations of the Town and Its Service and Funding expenses.
jjrn September 21, 2012 at 03:33 PM
This discussion is not about salaries it is about the blatent wrong-doing of Mr. Gabbert because of the personal grudge he holds against Mr. Albano. There were three firefighters up for the promotion, with Mr. Albano being second on that list and Mr. Gabbert bypassed him and gave the promotion to the canidate who was third. One would think that because of his past positions he has held as Mayor of Upper Saddle River and Borough Administrator in Little Ferry and currently Village Manager he would be aware of the Civil Servant Law but it seems he conviently forgot when interviewing Mr. Albano. Seems like the only waste of money is on Mr. Gabbert.....
Bill Connor September 21, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Thank You for your Comment.Each of these Various Threads on how we might Manage differently in the Future Illustrates that we need Change and in some cases some Different Approaches to Funding- these Obligations wont recede immediately we have to work the Revenue Input ( Rateables) and cost Lines agressively/ Its great Town- thats why most are Blogging rather than Packing
USAUSA September 21, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Mr. Gabbert needs to go, he gave the promotion to the one he liked best and who kissed his and everyones A** more. It is obvious that this man is an idiot and has cost the Village a plethora of money over the last few years!!!
Louis Miller September 21, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Gabbert also has a military discrimination case (USERRA) filed against him, wait until that comes to a conclusion.
Louis Miller September 21, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Gabbert also has a Military Discrimination case filed against for another improper civil service bypass, wait until that comes to a conclusion.

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