North Riverside mayor parts ways with fire chief, deputy

Secret search to replace command staff under way for a month

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

After a little more than seven months on the job, North Riverside's fire chief and deputy fire chief are out after Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. informed them of a change in direction during a brief meeting in the mayor's office at the Village Commons on July 13.

According to Hermanek, Chief Tom Gaertner and Deputy Chief Patrick Schey resigned, but Gaertner told the Landmark he was fired and that he hadn't submitted a letter of resignation. Neither man was offered a severance package; neither had an employment contract with the village.

"I'm shocked and I'm upset about it," said Gaertner in a telephone interview with the Landmark. "There was no reason for it, because we weren't doing anything wrong."

Gaertner said Hermanek would not specify the reasons behind the change, and that the meeting in the mayor's office lasted about 10 minutes. 

 "It's in the best interest of the village to do this," said Hermanek, adding that the reasons behind the change were "nothing bad" but were an "accumulation" of things.

Among Gaertner's shortcomings, according to Hermanek, was that he was a no-show for this year's Fourth of July fireworks, Gaertner also informed Hermanek he would not be available to attend a union/management arbitration session that had been scheduled for late June, but was later rescheduled.

"That raised eyebrows," said Hermanek. "I gathered he didn't want to sit on the administration's side at the hearing."

Hermanek said that Gaertner for a time also allowed two lieutenants to work the same shift, contrary to department policy.

"That potentially could have caused the loss of thousands of dollars," Hermanek said. 

While saying the two men resigned, Hermanek admitted that he'd been conducting a secret search for a new fire chief for the past month.

Shortly after informing Gaertner and Schey of the change, Hermanek hired Scott Boman as the fire department's interim chief. Boman most recently served as assistant fire chief for the Oak Lawn Fire Department.

Hermanek called Boman "eminently qualified, more than any chief in our village's history." 

"I'm satisfied [Boman] will do things that are in the best interest of the village," said Hermanek.

Boman, who will officially be sworn in at the village board's August meeting, moved into his office at the North Riverside fire station shortly after Gaertner and Schey collected their belongings and left.

Deputy Police Chief Christian Ehrenberg and Commander Dion Bobo accompanied Gaertner and Schey as they packed boxes in their offices. Police then drove the two men home from North Riverside.

Boman reportedly met with on-duty firefighters after arriving at the fire station to inform them of the situation.

Very few people knew about the impending change. Village Trustee Fernando Flores, who is the village board's liaison to the police and fire departments, was not informed of any change prior to it happening.

Flores told the Landmark he learned of the change via text message Friday afternoon.

"We are all in shock," Flores said.

What appears to have really damaged the chiefs' relationship with the mayor was the rapport the two chiefs had built with rank-and-file union firefighters.

Firefighter Chris Kribales, president of North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714, called Gaertner "one of the best chiefs in the department's history."

"The management style of these two was completely different from the previous chiefs," said Kribales. "We were working together to move forward.

"To say that this is a shock is an understatement."

Gaertner said he believed the cordial relationship he and Shey had with union firefighters was frowned upon by Hermanek. 

"It's all political," said Gaertner. "I didn't fit their political agenda. I think politicians need to put their personal agendas aside and do what's best for the people in this town."

Hermanek disputed that characterization, saying he was "taken aback" by Gaertner's assertion that politics played a role in his departure.

"It's about how to properly run a department for the benefit of the residents," Hermanek said.

For the past four years, the administration and the fire union have been engaged in a bitter battle over staffing, including a failed attempt by the village through the courts to privatize the fire department.

In the face of attempts to break the union, firefighters responded by publicly supporting rival candidates for mayor and trustee, including Village Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, who has long championed union firefighters' causes. During his 2015 run for mayor, Demopoulos dubbed his political committee "Save Our Firefighters."

Demopoulos said he thought Gaertner and Schey "have done a tremendous job. This is a big loss."

Union firefighters have been working without a contract since May 1, 2014. Both sides are scheduled to appear before a labor arbitrator on July 24 and July 31.

Kribales said the chiefs' ability to work with union firefighters could only have hurt them in the eyes of the village's administration.

"I believe the fact that these two worked with labor to move forward hindered them immensely," Kribales said.

Asked if such an assessment of the situation was accurate, Hermanek responded, "That's probably true. The chief and deputy chief work for the administration."

Gaertner said he was proud of his short tenure in North Riverside.

"It was an honor and a privilege for Pat and I to lead a group of such dedicated, hard-working firemen," he said.

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

Reader Comments

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Malone Vince  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 2:11 PM

The Entire VIP has to Go. The Mayor Has to Go. The New Fire Chief has to go. Schek needs to stay out of our Village Affairs. Given jobs need to be Taken!! Can't work at McDonald's without a background check. But one can become Our Fire Chief ? After these facts have been presented. And yes, they all walk in the same foot print. An external investigation needs to be done. Out source that Mr. Mayor. Cause I'm working on it as I type. And the LM blocking me. NICE TRY. I'D SUGGEST YOU DO YOUR JOBS. LIKECA REAL NEWS PAPER SHOULD. INSTEAD OF HELPING HIDE THE TRUTH. AUG 6TH. VILLAGE MEETING. I WILL BE THERE. AND I ASK ANY AND ALL TO COME HEAR WHAT OUR ADMINISTRATION HAS TO SAY. Any females gonna feel comfortable with this?? Our woman trustees are OK with this?? Of course they our. They're all in Bed together . All reaping benefits & perks. All their kids have cushy jobs! Their best friends have cushy jobs. How long do they think they can keep fooling us ? We are FOOLS. IF WE KEEP THESE PEOPLE. TIME FOR CHANGE. AUG 6TH. SEE YIU YOU THERE. BRING SOME POPCORN.

Steven Spiro  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 9:43 AM

First, Mr. Hermanek makes the mistake of hiring two fire department administrators only to fire them months later. Then, he conducts a so-called secret search which results in him hiring a replacement with severe baggage. He leaves one his trustees, Mr. Flores, the village's liaison to the fire department, out of the process. I suspect that Mr. Flores prostrated himself upon hearing the news of the replacement's baggage, and thanked the Lord that he was left out of the process. To think that the female trustees will lodge the faintest of complaints against the Mayor's decision to hire Mr. Boman, I think, is fantasy. I believe they're in lock-step with Mr. Hermanek every step of the way, and haven't got the courage to stand up for what is right. Let's see if I'm right.

Tom Seagrave  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 9:17 AM

I know many residents are concerned with the extremely serious sexual harassment allegations levied against North Riverside's new Fire Chief, Scott Boman, while he was working at the Oak Lawn Fire Department. A female firefighter claimed to have received abhorrent treatment at the hands of Mr. Boman, and she ultimately received a $850,000.00 settlement from the Village of Oak Lawn. Did Mayor Hermanek, in his haste to dispatch Chief Thomas Gaertner and Deputy Chief Patrick Schey, fail to do a comprehensive background check on Mr. Boman? It might be time for Trustees Theresa "Terri" Sarro and Deborah Czajka to step from Mayor Hermanek's shadow and conduct their own investigation into this consequential matter. The North Riverside Fire Department needs to be a progressive organization, and an institution of which all residents can be proud. #MeToo

Kristen Ratkovich Nalbandian  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 9:32 PM

So apparently missing fireworks is worse than sexual harassment? Not exactly the image the self proclaimed "nicest town in America" should have. What a horrible decision making process. Would any female resident feel ok with this man in their home alone?

Steven Spiro  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 7:51 PM

O.k., so the new fire chief seems to have made a pretty egregious error. My personal opinion is that it's not irredeemable. I'd like to think that he wouldn't make the same or similar mistakes again. But, the fact that he didn't want to discuss the matter with Mr. Uphues makes me wonder if he hasn't taken full responsibility for his part in the event. On the other hand, maybe he's just trying to put it behind him. Thanks to Mr. Melone, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. Hopefully, it was fully discussed with Mr. Hermanek before the decision to hire him was made. Now, on the other hand, you have Mr. Hermanek who seems to make the same types of mistakes over and over again. It should be clear to the outside observer that Mr. Hermanek just cannot come to grips with the fact that the NR Fire department and its union have successfully thwarted him and his cronies at every turn. Court case after court case lost. Substantiated bad faith bargaining. Huge sums of taxpayer money excreted away in losing legal maneuvers to privatize the fire department. Yet, I suspect, with each loss, with each setback, with each embarrassment, Mr. Hermanek's bitterness toward the fire department and union only increases. And, I think, this tempest of bitterness further compromises an already circumscribed ability of the mayor to think straight. I wonder, does Mr. Hermanek think that replacing two apparently well-liked fire department administrators right before union/management arbitration is somehow going to put the union in its place at the bargaining table? That it's somehow going to enhance the village's bargaining position? That's bitterness dictating action. Not the reasoned, logical, and flexible thinking we should expect from a mayor worth his salt.

H. Bob Demopoulos from North Riverside  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 6:52 PM

Ummm, this is seriously disturbing and a game changer! Trustee Demopoulos Village of North Riverside

Lisa Abbinante McDonald  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 6:40 PM

Vince M- thank you for posting this and opening some eyes

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 3:28 PM

If this don't take the Cake. Hello, his DNA was found on her belongings. Can you people Read. And here's his Response. More lies. Just leave Now. Don't be the Fall Guy. They'll screw you faster and harder, Than our Honest Hardworking, Much Liked Chiefs (2) . Imagine how they'll toss you aside like Garbage. Cause we as a Village Won't have You. I won't have you !! FYI Tic Toc Asked about the lawsuit, Boman did not want to discuss the matter, but said, "The female firefighter was one of the best women firefighters on our department that I'd been associated with, and it was extremely disappointing to be named in that lawsuit."

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 3:20 PM

Lol. That's easy. I grew up with an FBI Agent, 27yrs an agent. Best of friends!! I can get his advice, with one phone call. His son Coached my Son. This will all come Crumbling Down !! Sooner than later....... Vince Malone 2509 Forest Ave Proud NR.

Kathleen Sullivan  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 3:04 PM

Nice attempt at damage control LM! I guess the Mayor needed some time to make up false shortcomings. Why would the Police be involved if someone resigned? The Police were outside waiting for the deputy and chief to leave that meeting, with boxes in their cars, they didn't resign! Dirty lying horrible man you are Mayor. Why so insistent that you bring PSI in there as your firemen? $ Call the FBI and tip them off Vince Melone!

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 1:57 PM

Wow, LandMark !! Talk about damage control? At its finest . I'm calling BS on the Mayor. Secretly Searching for months. That alone is Not Right. Not informing your staff or The Residents. Your holes getting deeper Mr. Mayor. Keep on lying to yourself and your supporters. That's a Class Act. You Sir need to Resign, had in the letter. Ridiculous Lies. You need a better PR person. Who's ever pulling your strings won't be there when all this comes crashing down. And to the Landmark, my god. I'm speechless over your lack of the TRUE FACTS. BUT WHAT A NICE BIO. FOR A SEXUAL HARASSMENT PREDATOR. Can't work at McDonald's without a background check!! But I guess you can because Fire Chief. I'm sure Herbs reason would be, The guy comes Cheap. Being found guilty of the charges, I've researched !! That's saving the Village MONEY? I've heard it all now. Now I'm going to the Major News Networks. This has gone Way To Far, now with you updating this article!! Shame on the LM. Shame. I'm disgusted. And I've only begun. GAME ON. SEE YOU ALL AT THE NEXT VILLAGE MEETING. NO MORE FB, LM. FACE TO FACE. It's my god given Right. Mr. Arthur , I apologize for being harsh. But this is our Village. Not the Mayors playground. Or Scheks Either , yes Ex Mayor . Your in deep also. I want the Village to be fully Investigateed, past and present administration. I won't stop. Vince Malone 2509 Forest Ave 708 551 7051.

Brian Arthur  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 1:08 PM

Thank you for the clarification Mr. Melone. I did not know the new Chief went by his middle name.

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 12:59 PM

Maybe you need to do your own Research. What I posted is Free to the Public. So next time . Instead of commenting on my FACTS. DO YOUR OWN REASEARCH. WE HAVE A TOXIC ADMINISTRATION. WHO YOU CHUMS WITH?? IM HEAR TO ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS CONCERNING MY RESEARCH. THE TRUTH HURTS.

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 12:54 PM

Mr. Aruther. The court documents say Michael Bowman which is what Scott Bowman (new chief) went by. Michael is his middle name. What's next? I've done my Homework. Wake Up People . Peace.

Brian Arthur  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 12:13 PM

Mr Melone, I read the court documents you posted in your comments. According to the court documents, the defendant's name is "Michael Boman" and according to the Landmark, the name of our Interim Chief is "Scott Boman". So either you didn't accurately do your research or the Landmark didn't.

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 3:40 PM

That's would be our New Fire Chief. CMON. PEOPLE.

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 3:38 PM

In her lawsuit, filed in federal court in Chicago in 2006, Januszewski contended that on June 16, 2003, she opened the storage bin in which she kept her bedding linens at the fire station and discovered "a dried milky white substance" that testing later revealed to be semen. She maintained that after informing her superiors about the incident, the Fire Department failed to thoroughly investigate and that her superiors, several supervisors and co-workers began shunning and ostracizing her. Januszewski also claimed she was the subject of derogatory comments about female firefighters and that a superior retaliated against her, falsely accusing her of misconduct, after she rebuffed his advances. In addition, she alleged in her lawsuit that pornographic magazines and videos were regularly left around fire stations

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 3:34 PM

I posted links of the court case paperwork, I found in the Tribune. Basically it all reads as is 13 pages. Sexual Harassment Charges. And found Guilty. $850.000 settlement paid out. Is this who we want as Our New Fire Chief?? Wow. Just Wow.

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 3:27 PM

Ok, The Landmark won't allow links to be shared or pasted. So heres YOUR CHANCE LM. To educate yourselves and the Public. It's your jobs. So please, please investigate this issue.

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 3:25 PM

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-09-30/news/0909280325_1_sexual-harassment-settlemebnt-village-board

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 3:18 PM

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uS6iR0ZuXQuDQ3bwaN6uSc8DQ0S5c2m1/view?usp=drivesdk

Vince Melone  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 3:17 PM

Let's introduce to our Residents , Our New Fire Chief. And the LM needs to step it up with information, Correct information. This is no joke. This is serious stuff here and no one wants to talk about it. The Mayor of NR needs to be Investigateed. So does the Ex Mayor & the entire VIP Party. Residents need to wake up !! We're Millions in debt. They have spent well over a Million trying to Privatize or Out Sorce our beloved Fireman. Enough's is Enough Already. Don't ya think? This is just beyond Ridiculous. I ask myself, How this goes unseen by the Masses?? Corruption, I believe it's called. Time to reach out to the Major News Channels. Local news, THAT WILL INVESTIGATE OUR PAST AND PRESENT ADMINISTRATION DOWN TO THE LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL PROGRAM. ALSO RUN BY A BUNCH OF MONKEYS, SKIMMING MONEY FROM THE LL. TIME FOR CHANGE. TIME FOR HEADS TO ROLL. IM SEEING GOOD POEPLE LOSING THEIR JOBS, WHILE OTHERS CANT DO NO WRONG. VOTERS NEED TO WAKE UP. IM AVALIBLE FOR ANY REBUTTLE'S. YOU ALL!! KNOW WHERE I LIVE AND HOW TO REACH ME. THE TRUTH HURTS!!! FACTS DO TOO. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uS6iR0ZuXQuDQ3bwaN6uSc8DQ0S5c2m1/view?usp=drivesdk

Jim Richalds  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 1:51 PM

Garbage. Pure garbage. Knowing and working with the Chief for 15 years, this move is political garbage. Hopefully Boman doesn't fall into their trap. Things run a little different up here, than on the south side.

Earl Johnson from Lyons  

Posted: July 15th, 2018 11:19 PM

Wow talk about disgraceful! These are firefighters who have dedicated their lives to saving others and not only are they fired for purely political reasons but they're escorted out of the building like criminals. Mayor Hermanek should be ashamed of himself for this and try standing up for your hard working fire fighters and police officers!

Jolyn Crawford  

Posted: July 14th, 2018 3:49 PM

only the parties know the real story.

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