Kemah fire chief claims mayor asked him to overlook violations

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Oct. 26, 2010, 8:40am

GALVESTON - The former chief of the Kemah Volunteer Fire Department claims he was fired because he refused to falsify inspection certificates for the mayor.

In a lawsuit filed against the fire department on Oct. 20 in Galveston County District Court, Larry Suniga alleges that Mayor Matthew Wiggins told him to bypass several fire code violations so Wiggins could reopen his business and others following Hurricane Ike.

KVFD inspectors were checking on a bed and breakfast owned by Wiggins in late 2008 when they discovered numerous violations including improper or inoperable sprinkler heads, according to the suit.

Suniga states the mayor questioned the violations and instructed him to overlook them.

"(The mayor) advised that he did not think that the city of Kemah needed a fire code and that he would simply abolish it," the original petition states.

Meanwhile, the Kemah City Council voted to award Suniga overtime pay for his work following the hurricane. Suniga accepted the funds until he was asked to no longer take them, the suit states.

Suniga claims he was asked to sign a promissory note to repay the overtime compensation he had received, and believes the note was an act of retaliation for his refusal to circumvent the fire code, the suit states.

According to the complaint, Suniga was fired on Oct. 12, after serving as the volunteer fire chief since May 2005.

"The plaintiff's refusal to commit this illegal act and potentially subject himself to a violation of the law resulted in his termination," the suit says.

Suniga insists he was terminated without cause and argues he is eligible to receive about $70,000 in combined severance and accrued vacation pay.

He is represented by Rosenberg & Sprovach.

Galveston County 10th District Court Judge David Garner is presiding over the case.

Case No. 10-cv-3997

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