Former San Benito fire chief appeals suspension

SAN BENITO — Former Fire Chief Raul Zuniga wants to make his case.

Today, the Civil Service Commission is expected to hear Zuniga’s appeal of a five-day unpaid suspension stemming from his purchase of fire department equipment at last year’s city auction.

Zuniga has subpoenaed several witnesses for the hearing, including City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, who demoted Zuniga to a captain’s rank late last year.

Last month, interim Fire Chief Boris Esparza ordered Zuniga suspended for using the auction for his “personal benefit,” according to Esparza’s letter to Zuniga.

“You purchased several of the items at the auction. These items were delivered to your house by fire department personnel,” Esparza wrote.

“Although you presented a list of items to the city commission for approval, many of the items that were auctioned and purchased by you were not presented to or approved by the city commission,” he wrote. “You used the auction of surplus city items and department personnel for your own personal use.”

However, Zuniga denies the charge “100 percent.”

Meanwhile, Zuniga, 58, argues his demotion was based on age discrimination.

City Attorney Ricardo Morado has strongly denied that charge.

Complaints filed

On Oct. 3, Zuniga filed complaints with the city and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming De La Rosa told him he should retire.

“I told the city manager I was not going to retire,” Zuniga states in his complaint, “(T)hen within 24 hours I am instructed that I would be placed on administrative leave with pay.”

As part of the complaint, Zuniga requested the Texas Workforce Commission’s Division of Civil Rights investigate his claim.

There’s more

Zuniga is also accusing Esparza of retaliation

On Oct. 4, Esparza sent information to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement stating Zuniga was terminated, John Shergold, an attorney representing Zuniga, said.

Shergold accused Esparza of sending the information a day after Zuniga filed a complaint with the EEOC, arguing his demotion was based on age discrimination.

However, the city claims Esparza erroneously sent the information, Shergold said.

How we got here

Zuniga, a 34-year veteran of the department, had served as fire chief since 2012.

On Aug. 8, De La Rosa placed Zuniga on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into undisclosed “allegations” apparently stemming from his bidding at a fire department auction.

Then on Sept. 28, De La Rosa reassigned Zuniga to captain, cutting his salary by about $20,000, after city commissioners confirmed his appointment of Esparza as interim chief.


Aug. 8

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa places Fire Chief Raul Zuniga on paid administrative leave

Sept. 27

City commissioners vote to confirm De La Rosa’s appointment of interim chief Boris Esparza

Sept. 28

De La Rosa reassigns Zuniga to captain

Oct. 3

Zuniga files complaints arguing his demotion was based on age discrimination

Oct. 4

Esparza sends information to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement stating Zuniga was terminated

Jan. 19

Esparza orders Zuniga placed on a five-day unpaid suspension