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La Joya firefighter walkout not recorded due to ‘honest mistake’, interim city manager says

5 months 2 weeks 2 days ago Monday, February 28 2022 Feb 28, 2022 February 28, 2022 8:42 AM February 28, 2022 in News - Local

It was said to be a passionate public meeting in La Joya weeks ago, when city leaders ended their agreement with their fire chief.

Channel 5 News made a public information request for the audio recording of that special meeting, which ended with the city cutting ties with fire Chief Frankie Joe Salinas.

The end of the agreement was a result of the city changing the position to a full-time job, and the aftermath of the decision led to nine volunteer firefighters turning in their badges. With only two or three firefighters remaining, an early morning call the following day ended up requiring assistance from other agencies.

“You’re leaving people at a lurch and, mind you, you’re a first-responder," said La Joya interim city manager Leo Olivares. “And again, I’m not trying to demonize, I think the emotions got the better of them.”

The audio recording of the meeting that Channel 5 News received was incomplete. Channel 5 News was not able to hear what took place after city council returned from a closed-door session, when outbursts from firefighters supposedly happened.

“It was an honest mistake in our estimation, and it was unfortunate,” Olivares said.

Olivares says what happened that evening appears to have been an accident.

“The mayor, actually, he did attempt to record — he hit the button, or thought he hit the button —  but he didn’t confirm that the counter was ticking,” Olivares said. “So, in actuality, it wasn’t recording.”

This is the third time a firefighter walkout has happened as a result of the city terminating their relationship with their current fire chief, something Olivares hopes the city can put a stop to.

“I think you have a certain amount of misplaced loyalty when you’re loyal to an individual as opposed to the community,” Olivares said. “And so, we’re not questioning their motives, at least I’m not, but we do need to do a better job of making sure this doesn’t happen a fourth time.”

A job that will require a culture change, he says, and help from a leader.

Olivares says improvements are being made in how the city records these meetings. Zoom will be used with the eventual goal of broadcasting their meetings online, Olivares said. 

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