Lawsuit threatened over public comments on lost grant for Mission firefighters

1 year 5 months 1 week ago Friday, June 19 2020 Jun 19, 2020 June 19, 2020 9:18 PM June 19, 2020 in News - Local

The threat of a lawsuit lingers above the Mission firefighter’s union unless they issue a retraction to public comments made against the city's contracted grant-writing firm. On Friday, the union decided no apology would be forthcoming.

Questions about a missed deadline on a grant application for firefighters in December ignited a public dispute between the union for Mission firefighters and Hollis Rutledge and Associates, HRA, Inc.

Mike Silva, a firefighter and a member of the Mission Fire Fighters Association, calculated the department lost out on $500,000. He shared those concerns with city council members on January 13.

"We won't be getting any of that money. And why?" Silva said. "Because the city of Mission contracted Hollis Rutledge who does all your grants and failed to do a deadline of December 2 and decided to submit his December the 20th," Silva said. He ended by urging council to consider terminating the HRA, Inc.'s contract.

Hollis Rutledge & Associates is a firm contracted by Mission to help with securing funds through grants. In recent years, they've secured over $7 million for the city.

The grant in dispute was made available through the Office of the Governor Homeland Security Grant Division 2020 Border Zone Fire Department.

The deadline to submit the application was Dec. 2, 2020. Someone missed it. Hollis Rutledge told the council on February 10 it wasn't them.

"We approached the fire department's representatives three separate times between October and November — and it's a matter of record — on the grant due December 2 to see if they wanted our assistance to submit a grant application as we did with other cities but we never received a response," Rutledge said during the public comments portion of that meeting.

Rutledge expressed frustration with the characterization of his company. "I do not know where he got his information he spewed out in open council, but our firm will be pursuing legal remedy in a court of law," he said as he ended his prepared statement before council.

He made good on that promise early June.

A timeline of communications between the city and the firm were outlined in a letter sent from Horacio Peña Jr., attorney for the firm, to Robert Lopez, Mission Fire Fighters Association president, June 9.

Read the full letter to the Mission Fire Fighters Association here.

It stated that on October 14 the fire department was authorized by the city to submit the eGrant application, but "authorization request did not include nor ask for the participation or input of HRA, Inc.," according to Peña's letter.

Permission and access to submit a grant from the city must be given for each application, explained the firm's attorney during a phone interview Friday.

"There's an eLogin system that is solely in the possession of the City of Mission. Unless you're given permission to login with their... whatever the login information is for the city, then you can't pursue the application for the grant," Peña said.

Numerous attempts from HRA, Inc. reminding the city of the grant's deadline were detailed in the letter.

That's information Marco de Luna, attorney representing the union, hasn't had the chance to review or verify.

"The facts are what's going to be disputed, if it does go to litigation. I don't think we're in the position right now to be making a statement on what was said," De Luna said.

Peña's letter sent in June compelled the union to release a public retraction of their comments casting aspersions on the company's reputation. Otherwise, a lawsuit would be filed for defamation.

"No apology is forthcoming" was written in a letter authored by the union and posted on social media Friday.

Read the full response from the Mission Fire Fighters Association here.

Peña said he will be discussing the next steps with the firm.

It's unclear who would be named in the lawsuit -- Silva or the association.

"If he said it as an individual at this meeting in regards to Hollis Rutledge or if he was saying it on behalf of the union, I think it's something we have to clarify during the litigation," Peña said.

Silva could not respond to comment on Friday since he was on duty.

Since the dispute, HRA, Inc. has kept its contract active with the city, as per Mayor Armando O'Caña. An internal grant writer was also hired by the city. Mayor O'Caña clarified the position was budgeted before the dispute began. He declined the opportunity to comment further, because the city is not party to the potential lawsuit.

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