Former firefighter charges city with deliberately delaying fire station build

Despite a 2008 voter-approved bond, ground has never been broken for the new fire station.

By Kirsten Crow
Corpus Christi Caller-Times

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A retired firefighter filed a complaint against the Corpus Christi city manager Friday, alleging progress on a new fire station was deliberately being thwarted.

John Sendejar, a retired firefighter who once worked in the city’s budget office, said he filed the formal complaint at the city secretary’s office as a concerned resident.

In an interview, Sendejar accused Olson of intentionally delaying or trying to kill the project to construct the fire station on the Southside, a proposition included as part of a 2008 voter-approved bond package. The station was to be built on Ayers Street, between Saratoga Boulevard and Holly Road, but ground was never broken and the project is considered on hold.

City Manager Ron Olson described the claim as ridiculous.

“I’m surprised and appalled by the allegation,” Olson said. “The city manager … does not have the authority to cancel a project, or frankly, to carry out a project, … without the consent of the City Council.”

Sendejar contended the lack of movement on the project violates a portion of the city’s ethics code that states city officials and employees “shall not knowingly perform or refuse to perform any act in order to deliberately thwart the execution of federal, state or local laws or regulations or the achievement of any official city programs.”

“For five years, nothing has been done, and that’s why I’m saying that it appears that it has been deliberately put off,” Sendejar said.

Ethics complaints are forwarded to the city attorney, the ethics commission and the subject of the complaint. The person who has been complained against has 10 days after notification to respond to the complaint in writing, and within 30 days, the commission reviews the complaint and determines whether it warrants a hearing.

It was not immediately clear whether the complaint meets the criteria for an ethics commission hearing. Haysam Dawod, chairman of the commission, said Friday he could not comment about the complaint because he had not yet seen it.

Meanwhile, no decision has been made about the fate of the fire station, several city officials said this week.

Olson has said he would not recommend constructing the fire station, citing a lack of funding to staff it, as well as the findings by MGT of America, a consulting firm, that additional fire stations are not needed now.

“How can you justify building a fire station that you cannot staff or equip?” he said.

But members of the Corpus Christi Professional Firefighters Association say two other studies, one by TriData in 2005 and one by the International Association of Fire Fighters in 2014, state the station is needed to improve response times in the area. Fire Chief Robert Rocha recommended its construction in a 2013 staffing analysis, but noted this week there are budgetary realities to take into account.

Sendejar said if the city were not to follow through on the project, it would undermine the voting process and future referendums.

“Are they going to trust the city to follow through, or are they going to worry about a consultant dropping in and saying we don’t have to do this anymore?” he said.

City officials noted bond propositions are for voters’ approval to borrow money for a certain purpose, but they are not mandates that projects be carried out and the money spent.

Should the City Council determine not to construct the fire station, officials could decide not to issue the bonds. Staff is also researching whether the proposition would allow for the money to be spent on improving existing fire stations. Should officials take that route, they would likely return to voters for approval, Olson said, regardless of whether it is legally necessary. Discussion on the fire station is expected to be brought before the City Council, which has the authority to decide whether to pursue the project.


(c)2014 the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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