Volunteer Fire Departments and Rural Politics
Most definitely something there....
At a Special Board Meeting for ESD#6 that was held by the school district, then newly elected Congressman for that district, Francisco "Quico" Canseco was present and expressed his concerns. Mr. Canseco remained there and took notes until the meeting ended, somewhere around 11 p.m.
This meeting was set by the Southside Independent School District to inform the community of the fact that they (the school) did not have fire or emergency protection during the day time hours. Leaving the children and the staff at risk.
Appointment of unqualified members to the board?
Sometime around 2004, the county brought the idea of an Emergency Service District and taxing the rural communities to help offset the cost for the Volunteer Fire Departments; making it safer in areas that wouldn't have firefighters during the daytime hours because they have to make a living to support their families.
Sounds great? Well, it did and the members of the community voted for it, creating the Emergency Service District #6.
A board was appointed that kept the fire departments funded and maintained fire protection in the district.
Then County Commissioner of that District, Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez (the younger brother of former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez) overnight replaced the members to the board. He appointed his campaign manager, Sylvia Ruiz Mendelsohn, who became board President and other members of the board, Norbert Chavez, VP; Luisa Vargas, Treasurer; Loren Brewer, Commissioner and John Wood, commissioner.
Board appointments are done by the County Commissioner of the designated Precinct, with the approval of all County Commissioners. The appointments are to be staggered as they were prior to June 2009.
2 June 2009, Commissioner's Court Agenda shows the following:
Approval of a request from County Commissioner Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez, Precinct 1 to appoint Mr. Loren G. Brewer to replace the hold-over status of position held by Emmanuel Flutz, Jr. to begin upon appointment and expire December 31, 2009. Ms. Sylvia Ruiz Mendelsohn to replace the hold over status position held by Marilyn Matthey to begin upon appointment and expire December 31, 2010, and John Nolan Wood to replace the hold-over status held by Andrew Herrera to begin upon appointment and expire December 31, 2009, and the re-appointment of Norberto Chavez and Luisa Vargas to serve on the Bexar County Emergency Services District Number #6,to begin upon appointment and expired December 31, 2010.
In 2005, the board appointed Ms. Luisa Vargas to the board and as such she is the longest sitting member on that board. Nothing was found after her expiration in 2006, that is until June of 2009. Norberto Chavez is listed as being re-appointed, but I did not find an agenda that stated he had ever been appointed, but it is a well know fact throughout the fire departments that he had been a long standing member as well, just not as long as Ms. Vargas.
Board member backgrounds:
Ms. Luisa Vargas (aka. Luisa Ramos Saenz) , according to newspaper articles, she was to be commended for returning to college and getting her degree as a grade school teacher at her age. She was at the time employed by the Southside ISD and has since left the district after allegations surfaced that she was physically abusing children in her class; ran for the school board with the support of Ms. Mendelsohn. Mr. Chavez, Mr. Brewer and Mr. Wood, the latter three having been students at the school she worked. She called them "her boys".
Mr. Loren Brewer, supported for the Southside ISD board by Ms. Mendelsohn as she helped run his campaign. He was elected to the Southside ISD board, was censured and stepped down as board president. His last year on the school board also showed more absences than attendance. Mr. Brewer openly campaigned for Mr. Chavez, when he like Ms. Vargas ran for the school board. Mr. Brewer attempted to run for the school board the next election cycle, but did not make the deadline to submit his paper work, was given an extension, but chose not to run. District Court records show, Mr. Brewer might best be remembered by his community as Mr. Loren Glen Martin who attended Southside ISD and changed his name to Loren Glen Adcock in December of 1990, then once again in January of 2000, Mr. Martin, now Mr. Adcock changed his name to Loren Glen Brewer and goes by several other alias'.
Mr. Norbert Chavez, was supported by Mr. Brewer, Ms. Vargas and Ms. Mendelsohn when he too ran for the Southside ISD board. Mr. Chavez openly campaigned in the district for the hiring of interim superintendent Dr. Fidel Del Barrio, which is documented, that he was working for him in his cattle business at the time. Mr. Chavez also attended the Southside ISD school board to accept Mr. Brewer's appreciation of service plaque when Mr. Brewer left the Southside ISD school board and was unable to attend the final board meeting.
Mr. John Nolan Wood, not much is known about Mr. Wood, only that he has a lifelong friendship with Mr. Brewer and Mr. Chavez and that at one point in time he owned a fencing company. Also, a little something interesting, when I first looked on the County Commissioners website at Board Appointments, it showed Mr. Wood's seat as expiring in December of 2009, looking at the website a second time; the date had been changed to December 2010, no agenda motion was found to do so. Mr. Wood is not shown as owning property in the district or paying taxes in the district. He has children in the Southside ISD district. He was a hand picked appointment by Mr. Brewer to fill in a vacated seat on the Southside ISD board in 2013, ran in 2015, switching positions and lost the election.
Ms. Sylvia Ruiz Mendelsohn (aka. Sylvia Mendoza Ruiz, Sylvia Ruiz, Sylvia Mendelsohn) has been a long standing member of the Southside School District community. Her family owned much property and business' in the area located on and off 281 south and 1604 that are now owned by Ms. Mendelsohn. She has been a political activist in her community, as well as a candidate having run against Carlos Uresti, twice and defeated both times. She openly campaigned for Sergio "Chico" and Ciro Rodriguez in her community as well as holding the position of campaign manager for Chico Rodriguez. She has been appointed to the City South Board, The Mental Health Board and the Emergency Services District Board #6 and is working directly for County Commissioner Rodriguez, having appointed another "inner circle" member to her seat on the ESD#6 board.
Ms. Matthey stated at the AtaBexar fire station that she and Mr. Herrera were not given any advance warning of their being removed. The video footage also shows Ms. Matthey saying that the ESD#6 had reserved funds of over $450,000 plus the tax revenue they'd collected and so they had close to $1,000,000 when she and Mr. Herrera were removed from the board. Where did it all go?
If the seats on this board are allowed to over-run and in the case of Mr. Brewer, who's seat was expired over a year (on record, only attended the meeting for his appointment ) and allowing a seat to remain vacant for so long, was and is a disservice to the community that this person represents, in short, the Sandy Oaks VFD area. This showed and shows a lack of due diligence on the part of the County Commissioner's office.
What is the job of the Emergency Service District?
It was the job of this board to distribute the taxpayer funds to three fire departments in the area, South Bexar Fire and Rescue, AtaBexar VFD and the Sandy Oaks VFD.
Funds were to be spent on:
Scheduled equipment maintenance costs, not replacements like tires or engines.
Apparatus payments and new equipment (trucks, gear, etc)
Uniforms for Fire Fighters
Payroll for salaried Fire Fighters during the daytime hours.
Insurance on vehicles, etc.
Instead, Ms. Mendelsohn opted to try to gain control of the Volunteer Fire Departments and their inventory. When the Volunteer Fire Departments are actually their own entities that are contracted for service by the ESD#6.
Emergency Vehicles at Sandy Oaks VFD
Sandy Oaks Volunteer Fire Department
20 plus volunteer firefighters/EMT's
Home Land Security housed their hazmat equipment here
They had certified hazmat personnel
This was the only station with a ladder truck (that could reach the taller buildings at the school district) It was stated in the local news that the Sandy Oaks VFD stood to lose a ladder truck worth $750,000 due to the ESD #6 cutting their funding. They also stood to lose other trucks making it a total of about $3 million dollars in fire fighting equipment that is needed to protect the lives of the community, many of which are elderly.
Average about 658 calls per year and cover approximately 64 square miles
At the Southside ISD special board meeting on Nov. 10, 2010, It was said that Sandy Oaks VFD covered 2 elementary schools, a middle school and what is called "Hazmat alley", which is the area south of 37 S and North of 1604. There is a water treatment plant, a petroleum research plant, a mulch farm and 3 gas stations among other businesses.
Then the acting Chief Squires said that when they spoke to newly hired District Chief prior to the meeting, they were told they had 10 days to decide and sign their new contract. He also stated that they asked to see the contract and was told to them it was not in written form yet, but that the Sandy Oaks VFD would have to sign over a vehicle if it received funds for fuel and if ESD#6 paid for utilities, they would be required to sign over the property (firehouse) to the ESD#6. Then acting Captain Inmon of the AtaBexar VFD said they were told the same thing. Chief Crowley of South Bexar who had been running his fire station with funds said that his contract had been rescinded and they would also be under negotiations with ESD#6.
Chief Crowley was asked since his fire department was the only active one, if he had filed a contingency plan with the ESD#6 and turned one in to the district to inform them of what they were to do or who to call in case of an emergency at the district schools. His reply was, No. It was up to the ESD#6 board to do that.
The representatives for the fire departments mentioned that they had limited daytime personnel (7 a.m. - 6 p.m.) without funding, until the volunteers come in after they get off their regular jobs, leaving the district at risk. They also stated that they received an average of 65-75 calls combined during the holiday season of Dec. 21- Dec 31, when fireworks season begins.
Making it a heavy burden on one firehouse to cover alone. John Longoria, former chief of Sandy Oaks VFD was asked if they'd had these kind of problems before. Longoria remarked that around 2006-2007, the ESD#6 board wanted to consolidate the area and do away with South Bexar because it's equipment and building were sub-par and required much funding, but after public outcry it was established that it would take all 3 Volunteer Fire Departments to serve the county efficiently. He elaborated that on the fact that Sandy Oaks had the highest amount of hazardous material in the Southeastern part of the county and the equipment to handle it; as well as WMD training and equipment. South Bexar had a tremendous First Responder unit and AtaBexar had great training in water rescue, WMD training and hazmat training as well.
November 1, 2010- the same day that the Sandy Oaks VFD was "fired" by Ms. Mendelsohn for incomplete paperwork. Ms. Mendelsohn received a report from the auditors with praises for the work done by Sandy Oaks and complying with the audit, calling it a "clean" audit.
Issues continued to replay themselves again and again:
December 2012- Ms. Mendelsohn and the ESD#6 Board voted to cut funding from Sandy Oaks Volunteer Fire Department and shut them down on grounds of "nepotism" and for non-payment of funds that were "loaned" to them after the last legal battle, when the judge appointed someone to help them iron out their differences and sign a contract.
Today, the fire department is but a shell of what it use to be. The firefighters gone and the department moth balled; thanks to Ms. Mendelsohn and her personal agenda, she affected the lives of many individuals in the Southeastern Bexar County area.
Emergency Vehicles at AtaBexar Volunteer Fire Department
Ata-Bexar County Line Volunteer Fire Department
20 plus volunteer firefighters/EMT's
Specialize in swift water rescue
Jr. Firefighters Training Program (ages 14-17)
Also supports some of the area in Atascosa County that borders the firehouse in Bexar County. Hence, the name Ata-Bexar.
November 1, 2010- The auditors notified that they were working with AtaBexar on their audit and awaiting the bingo audit that had been turned in to another reporting entity and were awaiting a copy of the documentation to proceed.
OCT 12, 2010: Ms. Mendelsohn signed for documents that listed the certified fire fighters and certifications, before they were shut down, she knew they had their certification/background check paperwork in order.
The folks at the AtaBexar VFD have continued to work diligently to get their funding and their fire station back on track. They work together like a well oiled machine. While Ms. Mendeloshn tried every thing but the kitchen sink to shut them down, she did not succeed.
The Ata-Bexar fire department was voted in by the community, therefore, it would take the community to shut them down. Since they border two counties, it would require both counties to vote. Ms. Mendelsohn did make it so that the fire department can no longer make calls in their area, but she had no control over Atascosa County.
Do you support your local ESD6?
SOUTH BEXAR FIRE & RESCUE
There has been much on the AtaBexar VFD and the Sandy Oaks VFD in the news, but not much about the one remaining fire department that Ms. Mendelsohn chose to keep open until they became a liability to her. The South Bexar Fire and Rescue, was located from walking distance of businesses owned by Sylvia Mendelsohn and down the road from her personal home. They don't have a web site and not much information was known about them other than they had a very old firehouse, a small staff and older trucks.
South Bexar Fire and Rescue had been put or may have allowed themselves to be put into the position that they are in by decisions they made as a department. It is evident in the information known by Mr. Crowley, that he was very knowledgeable about what was going on in regards to the "community center" and fire house construction. When you have three departments involved in something of this caliber and you have one department that has all the information that the other's don't, then questions of collusion quickly come to mind.
The South Bexar Fire and Rescue had been rewarded handsomely since Ms. Mendelsohn took over the ESD#6. Since Ms. Mendelsohn took over the ESD #6, a payment was made monthly by the ESD#6 for office space for South Bexar Fire and Rescue, instead of having it come out of the South Bexar budget. Funding for South Bexar was also increased to surpass the funding of the two larger fire departments with more personnel, equipment and overhead costs than South Bexar. Ms. Mendelsohn also spent $14,000 + on a loader for South Bexar without prior board approval and funds from the ESD#6 were used to pay for litigation costs for the Chief, David Crowley of South Bexar Fire and Rescue for his actions during an emergency response.
On Aug 31st of 2010, South Bexar Fire and Rescue had not complied with the auditors and sent the requested information (minutes, 941's -quarterly payroll tax, 990's, confirmations and clarification of some bookkeeping entries). Causing the auditors to issue a disclaimer of opinion.
The 990 forms are Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax forms that tell some of the following:
Expenses: for the program, management and fundraising.
Grant money received
Income received and by whom
Self dealing transactions (paying yourself)
On November 1, 2010; the first day that South Bexar Fire and Rescue became the only South side VFD, the auditors issued a letter to Ms. Mendelsohn informing her that because of the significance of the missing documentation they were currently in a "withdrawn" position on their audit.
South Bexar Fire and Rescue did sign a new contract on October 1, 2010 and although Mr. Crowley mentioned that it had been rescinded, Ms. Mendelsohn and Mr. Rosenberg both stated at a board meeting in December of that year that South Bexar Fire and Rescue was the only fire station under contract.
Fast forward to January and the contract comes up again. It was stated by Mr. Crowley on January 11, 2011 that on December 31,2010, the evening prior to the ESD#6's appearance in court to appoint a monitor, they were shown their contract and it was "not" the one he had signed in October. Could there be fraud on behalf of the ESD#6, could they have manipulated the contract? Why? South Bexar Fire and Rescue was now also having the financial difficulties that the other fire departments were having due to funding limitations.
THEY WANT TO SHUT THEM DOWN
The ESD#6 board met Dec. 20, 2012 to voted on shutting down the final station, South Bexar Fire and rescue; as well and taking their building and equipment.
While Ms. Mendelsohn was busy trying to take over properties and equipment from the other departments, she failed to lien the South Bexar Fire and Rescue equipment. Seeing the writing on the wall, the South Bexar Fire and Rescue sold their equipment to another volunteer fire department in Atascosa County. Ms. Mendelsohn then spent thousands of taxpayers dollars in lawsuits, try to regain the assets.
A Sad State of Affairs
It is sad, that one individual could cause such destruction in a community and put financial affairs above those of the people's best interest and safety.
Volunteer Fire Fighters put their lives on the line everyday for their communities and most times never get a Thank You or Great Job. They don't do it because they have to, but because they want to. It's a calling from within to give of themselves.
It's a shame when you see how quickly politics and greed can take advantage of them.
© 2010 Lady Liberty