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.
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