North Riverside’s Civil Service Commission last month fired a longtime fire department lieutenant who accessed a subordinate’s computer, email account and other files and then reportedly lied when confronted about the incident by the subordinate.
In all, the commission found Lt. Michael Wisniewski guilty of violating nine departmental rules, among them conduct unbecoming a firefighter, neglecting duty and making a false statement, and of violating one section of the village of North Riverside’s personnel manual on unauthorized attempt to access another’s email.
“The commission finds just cause exists for discharge of [Wisniewski] from his position as a lieutenant and member of the fire department of North Riverside,” commission members concluded in their final order, which was dated Sept. 16.
However, the matter is not entirely resolved. North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 has filed a grievance on behalf of Wisniewski and the matter is set to go to arbitration.
“We don’t think the charges supported a decision to discharge,” said J. Dale Berry, the attorney representing Wisniewski.
Reached last week, Berry said that the two sides were in the process of selecting an arbitrator from a five-person panel. There has been no date set for the arbitration hearing.
Wisniewski has been a member of the North Riverside Fire Department for 19 years. He has been a leader in Local 2714, having served on the contract bargaining team and as president of the pension board.
“He’s pretty heavily invested,” Berry said.
The union and the village have been at odds for more than a year over an attempt by the village to privatize the fire department, replacing them with the company that provides paramedic services for the village.
The dispute has been in the courts since September 2014 and may be resolved at a hearing scheduled for Oct. 15 in Chicago.
Berry suggested that Wisniewski’s was collateral damage in the dispute between the village and the union and said that the Civil Service Commission itself was packed with allies of the VIP Party, which has a stronghold on village government.
“It was an obvious result,” Berry said. “It’s a handpicked commission by the mayor, and he wants to reduce the size of the department.”
Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. brushed off Berry’s accusation, saying the termination was warranted.
“I vehemently disagree that it’s political,” Hermanek said. “The charges speak for themselves.”
Hermanek declined to comment further on the matter, citing the upcoming arbitration hearing.
One of the aggravating factors in the commission’s decision to terminate Wisniewski was that it was the second time the lieutenant had committed actionable offenses within a year.
According to the commission’s final order, obtained by the Landmark via a Freedom of Information request, Wisniewski was suspended for five 24-hour days in June 2014 for falsifying duty reports for a probationary firefighter who had twice reported late for work. Those incidents occurred in September 2013 and January 2014.
In November 2014, Wisniewski was on duty and supervising a shift when he accessed a subordinate’s computer to access emails. The subordinate, the department’s information technology officer, observed the unauthorized access while working from home.
When the subordinate confronted Wisniewski about the unauthorized access, the lieutenant reportedly denied being responsible, saying he’d talk to the shift about the incident.
Wisniewski also admitted to the unauthorized computer access during testimony, according to the commission’s final order.