December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Ridgeville investigates firefighter

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — A city firefighter is under investigation for allegations he worked a part-time job for another fire department on sick days he took in North Ridgeville.
Fire Chief John Reese confirmed Friday an eight-year member of the Fire Department, is the subject of a Police Department investigation that has been turned over to the county prosecutor’s office.
Reese declined to name the man or detail the specifics of the case, which later were revealed by Michael Piotrowski, attorney for firefighter Ralph Conte.
“We discovered one guy was doing something we felt was improper and we will absolutely not tolerate it,” Reese said.
“I can’t say he’s breaking the law,” Reese said. “There’s no indication of that yet, but this guy knows he’s in trouble.”
Reese did say he was expected to testify before a county grand jury next week on the matter.
A grand jury could opt to indict Conte if it finds there is enough evidence to bring charges, or it could determine there is insufficient evidence to proceed further.
Corey Stearns, president of the firefighters’ union, referred questions about the case to Piotrowski, who confirmed the man’s identity as he provided details of the alleged wrongdoing by his client.
“He is accused of calling in sick one day in 2008 and again in 2010 so he could go work a side job at the Valley View Fire Department” where he is employed part-time, according to Piotrowski.
“Those claims are simply not true,” Piotrowski said.
“At worst, it was a simple mistake on his part,” Piotrowski said.
“Ralph has admitted he messed up the calculations on what days he was permitted to work at Valley View,” Piotrowski said.
Conte has repaid the city of North Ridgeville for the time he worked in Valley View, according to his attorney, who claimed the city has no policy barring employees from working side jobs.
The amount of money totaled under $500, according to Piotrowski.
On both occasions, Conte was on extended leaves during periods of time when two of his four children were born, according to Piotrowski, who said Conte used personal or vacation or comp days to work in Valley View.
Each time, Conte was off work from North Ridgeville for periods of a month to a month-and-a-half under terms of the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to grant time off for employees due to the birth or adoption of a child, Piotrowski said.
“Ralph has taken his share of sick leave, having four kids, but never to go work in Valley View,” Piotrowksi said.
Conte could face disciplinary measures through the fire department, but those would have to wait until the investigation by the county prosecutor’s office is completed, Reese said.
Conte has filed a grievance over the matter with the city’s firefighter union.
Conte continues to work while the matter continues to be under investigation, according to Reese.
North Ridgeville police Capt. Marti Garrow said detectives looked into the matter for a few weeks before forwarding the case to the prosecutor’s office.
Calls to the offices of County Prosecutor Dennis Will for comment were not returned.
“This guy has always done a decent job,” Reese said. “He’s never been in any kind of trouble before.”
Piotrowski agreed.
“But for this he’s been an exemplary fireman. He’s been an excellent employee.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.