Hearing on Hobart firefighter infighting postponed
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent October 9, 2012 9:20PM
Updated: November 11, 2012 6:19AM
HOBART — A fire lieutenant will have to wait until next month to learn whether he will be demoted for reportedly making disparaging remarks about two fellow firefighters, including one who attorneys said was caught as he was about to have sex with his girlfriend in the closed Fire Station 2 on West Old Ridge Road.
The disciplinary appeal hearing for Lt. Mark Slonaker was postponed until Nov. 13 when one of the main witnesses, barber shop operator Shelly Gilliana, did not appear at Tuesday night’s hearing. City attorney Anthony DeBonis told the fire commission Gilliana was detained in Illinois.
The fire commission granted the continuance on the conditions that this is the last postponement on either side, that a subpoena for Gilliana be presented at the next hearing and that she provide a statement to the commission on why she didn’t show Tuesday.
Fire Chief Brian Taylor had recommended Slonaker be demoted to private after Lt. John Papka brought a complaint to Taylor saying Slonaker had spread disparaging information about him to the public. DeBonis said Gilliana said Slonaker made unflattering remarks about Papka and firefighter Patti Brazil while at the barber shop.
“Gilliana thought his remarks were so egregious that she banned Slonaker from her business,” DeBonis said.
Slonaker is accused of calling Brazil incompetent at her job and of spreading the details of Papka and his girlfriend in the closed fire station. DeBonis said while dating Gilliana in the past, Slonaker spoke of his disdain for other officers and how they receive their positions on the force.
“The matter is sensational, I won’t deny it. A lady approached Papka at Station 2 seeking to have sex with him. He was considering it when some officers interrupted,” DeBonis said.
DeBonis said Papka admitted his guilt to Taylor and was demoted from his position as director of fire prevention, a front-office job that has 9 to 5 weekday hours and a supplement in salary, and was suspended for a period of time without pay. Papka accepted the punishment, DeBonis said.
But, DeBonis said, Slonaker’s actions also were serious.
“When firefighters attack another firefighter it creates a corrosive atmosphere,” DeBonis said.
He said the First Amendment doesn’t apply to police officers and firefighters, who give up that right so the department can operate efficiently.
Slonaker’s attorney, Michael Deppe, disagreed, saying firefighters shouldn’t have any fewer rights than anyone else.
Deppe asked who should get disciplined more — the person who allegedly was caught about to have sex in the fire station or the person talking about it. He also pointed out that Gilliana is a former girlfriend of Slonaker’s.
“This is one witness against another, and the one witness is a lover scorned,” he said.
Deppe pointed out that Gilliana waited one month before bringing the matter to the chief’s attention. The incident with Papka occurred in May and the complaint was made in June.
DeBonis said while Taylor is recommending a demotion to private for Slonaker, the commission could take other action such as a long-term suspension or firing him.
Several firefighters attended the hearing. One firefighter said they were there to offer support, some for Slonaker and some for Papka and Brazil.