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Board upholds decision to fire Milwaukee Health Department employee who oversaw lead abatement projects

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A fired Milwaukee Health Department employee is not getting his job back.

Richard Gaeta oversaw lead abatement projects and was fired over the summer after an internal investigation.

The decision to uphold Mr. Gaeta's termination comes after days and more than 30 hours of testimony. Board members say it's one of the longest appeal hearings in the city's history.

Gatea was fired after that internal investigation found Gaeta misused federal funds-and did not abate lead hazards in homes of kids with lead poisoning.

Several health department employees were disciplined or resigned in the wake of the lead program problems, but Gatea is the only one who was fired.

Gatea's attorney says he was a scapegoat.

"I gotta say we think it's a travesty. We don't think the charges were supported by the evidence at all. At the same, I can't say it's entirely surprising. The city's entire approach to these matters has been one guided not by the evidence, but by a desire to find somebody to blame," said Paul Schinner, Attorney for Gaeta.

The newly appointed Health Commissioner, who was not involved in the decision to fire Gaeta, was at the hearing and said the board made the right call.

"We also want to be mindful of the message that this sends as we correct some of the problems from the past, we're able to take steps forward instead of take steps back. I'm very optimistic about this and I'm glad that this was upheld," said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

Despite the decision, Gaeta's attorney says they're not done yet. They're looking at a judicial review and possibility of suing the city. 

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