City fire chief and city attorney job’s in limbo

SAN BENITO — The city might be replacing Fire Chief Raul Zuniga.

Today, city commissioners are expected to consider confirming City Manager Manuel De La Rosa’s appointment of Capt. Boris Esparza as the city’s interim fire chief.

In other matters, Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez is requesting De La Rosa seek proposals from attorneys who could replace City Attorney Ricardo Morado.

For weeks, Zuniga’s fate has appeared in limbo.

De La Rosa “will not be commenting on personnel matters or proposed organizational changes at this time,” city spokeswoman Martha McClain stated yesterday.

On Aug. 8, De La Rosa placed Zuniga on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into “allegations.”

Those allegations apparently stem from Zuniga’s bidding at a fire department auction.

John Shergold, Zuniga’s attorney, said the city has not contacted his client regarding the case.

On Aug. 29, commissioners postponed action on De La Rosa’s request to confirm his removal of Zuniga’s title and appointment of an acting fire chief.

But commissioners took no action, apparently after Shergold requested any discussions about Zuniga be held in an open public forum.

At that meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Carol Lynn Sanchez said commissioners would reconsider the matter at their next meeting, Sept. 5.

But the matter did not appear on the Sept. 5 meeting agenda.

Yesterday, Shergold said the city must place De La Rosa’s request to appoint Esparza on the meeting’s agenda before commissioners vote on the matter.

“They said they were going to bring the issue back — they didn’t,” Shergold said in an interview. “They have to put it on the agenda to remove him. They can’t remove him in secret. I guess we’ll have two fire chiefs in the same department — one will be on suspension with pay.”

Zuniga, a 32-year department veteran, has served as fire chief since 2012.

A new city attorney?

Meanwhile, Ricardo Morado has served as city attorney for about six years — and Rodriguez believes that might be long enough.

It’s the second time in about three months that Rodriquez has requested commissioners consider his request for proposals.

In June, commissioners took no action on the request.

Today, commissioners are expected to consider Rodriguez’s second request to seek proposals for the city attorney’s job.

“Let’s see if we can go different directions,” Rodriguez said yesterday. “Let’s see what comes in. I hope other firms are interested in working for San Benito. It’s nothing personal. It’s always been business. Nobody’s done anything wrong. If the commission wants to go with Mr. Morado, no problem.”

Morado, an attorney with the Brownsville firm of Roerig, Oliveira and Fisher, has served as city attorney since mid 2011, charging an hourly rate of $175.

Morado, who served as mayor from 1998 to 2002, previously served as city attorney from 1995 to 1997.

A San Benito native, Morado was former President Bill Clinton’s nominee to replace U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela in 2000. But the nomination expired when Clinton left office in January 2001.


June 20 — City commissioners authorize the fire department to auction surplus equipment.

Aug. 8 — City Manager Manuel De La Rosa places Fire Chief Raul Zuniga on paid administrative leave.

Aug. 29 — Commissioners postpone confirming De La Rosa’s removal of Zuniga’s title.