Tomball - Magnolia Edition | March 2021

CHANGES IN THE DISTRICT

COMPARING PAY Public information requests by Community Impact Newspaper indicate pay rates for positions within the MVFD and neighboring departments. Magnolia The Woodlands Spring Klein

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member ESD 10 board in early March. County com- missioners approved a new board March 9. “I just felt it was time with the allegations that were going around, the investigation that was going on ... that they vacated their spot so we could put a new board in place and go in a new direction,” Riley said. “We had a great group of guys at the ESD 10, but we did replace those guys with just-as-good, if not better people from the community, from the business community.” ESD 10 contracts with and funds the MVFD to provide re services. However, the board voted March 18 to notify the MVFD of terminating its con- tract, which would result in the ESD being the direct employer and provider of services. Former ESD 10 Commissioner Tate Robinson claimed contract dis- cussions began prior to the lawsuit’s ling due to growth in the district. “The conversation had been ongoing for months before there were any issues in the Magnolia re department,” said Robinson, who had served for four years before he was asked to resign in March. Montgomery County public records indicate a case was led by Assistant Chief Chuck Grant, who worked in technology, on Jan. 13 in the 284th Judi- cial District Court. The suit alleges Grant’s employ- ment was terminated in December following a report to the district attorney’s oce of miscon- duct surrounding the hiring and promotion of Elisa Noriega, assistant re chief of the communications division. In the defendants’ response led with the court Feb. 5, Vincent and the MVFD denied the allega- tions. However, Riley conrmed March 16 the dis- trict attorney’s oce is investigating the lawsuit’s claims. The lawsuit sought the reinstatement of Grant’s employment and full compensation of the wages and benets lost upon being terminated, among other items. It also alleged MVFD employees are concerned for their futures in the department due to the work environment. “I had a lot of friends that were in [the depart- ment]. … They would trust me with not selling them out because it was fear of reprisal,” said Buck Car- raway, a former ESD 10 commissioner who served from 2016-18, meeting minutes show. Carraway said he quit his role with ESD 10 due to concerns he expressed about spending not being addressed but claimed friends have told him of the toxic work environment. “I heard it got worse after I was gone,” he said. Legal matters County records show Grant’s case was pending as of press time March 24. However, ESD 10 minutes from Feb. 22 show the district authorized negotiat- ing a settlement with Grant. Grant deferred questions to his attorney, who could not be reached for comment; however, Chief Je Hevey—who was hired March 18—said Grant began work March 22 as the assistant chief of safety and health. The case, led by Grant against the MVFD, Vin- cent and ESD 10, alleges Vincent “unilaterally

Montgomery County Emergency Services District No. 10, which funds the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department, saw various leadership changes in February and March and voted March 18 to start the process of terminating its contract with the MVFD. Dec. 14 Assistant Chief Chuck Grant, who worked with technology, is terminated from the MVFD, according to claims made in his lawsuit documents. Jan. 13 Grant les a wrongful termination lawsuit in the 284th Judicial District Court against then- Chief Gary Vincent and the MFVD, alleging he was terminated following a report to the district attorney’s oce of misconduct within the MVFD. Jan. 14 Minutes show ESD 10 approves a contract with a third party for information technology services, and the ESD approves a request from the MVFD for $75,000 to fund legal expenses. Minutes indicate Jon Buckholtz with the Montgomery County DA’s oce attends the meeting. Feb. 8 The lawsuit is amended to include ESD 10 as a defendant. Feb. 11 ESD 10 places Vincent on leave and hires Je Hevey as interim chief, who said he previously helped Harris County ESD 48 transition to a direct provider. Minutes show board members discussed assuming direct provision of emergency services. Feb. 22 During a special meeting, minutes show ESD 10 board members authorized counsel for the district and the MVFD to negotiate a settlement with Grant. March 2-10 At Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley’s request, ESD 10 board members le resignation letters dated March 2-10. March 4 Vincent announces his retirement. March 9 A new ESD 10 board is appointed by Riley and approved by Montgomery County Commissioners Court. ESD 10 selects Conroe-based attorney Adam Dietrich to investigate personnel matters of the district and the MVFD. March 18 ESD 10 votes to hire Hevey permanently and notify the MVFD of its intention to terminate the contract for services, eective Jan. 1, 2022. SOURCES: MONTGOMERY COUNTY EMERGENCY SERVICES DISTRICT NO. 10, MAGNOLIA VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER

Assistant/deputy chief

$144,201* $134,859-$144,439

$86,600

N/A

Communications role

$144,201*

N/A

$90,562

$72,000

Fire chief

$199,233

$161,043

$98,000

$130,000

*Calculated from hourly pay rate SOURCES: ESD 10; MAGNOLIA, THE WOODLANDS TOWNSHIP, SPRING AND KLEIN FIRE DEPARTMENTSCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER

terminated” Grant’s employment Dec. 14, violating the Texas Whistleblower Act. However, Robinson said, as the department had outgrown its in-house information technol- ogy capabilities, the IT position was abolished. Minutes of the district’s Jan. 14 meeting show the board approved a contract with QZIP Technical Solutions for maintenance and improvement of IT infrastructure. According to the MVFD bylaws outlined in the Jan. 13 suit, the re chief has the “sole authority to appoint or remove any ocer in the department, and to create or abolish any positions” in the department. Regarding the hiring of a public information o- cer—the role Noriega lled—Robinson said the dis- trict directed Vincent to hire a public information ocer following recommendations to do so at a statewide conference. Because ESD 10 currently is not the direct employer of re department personnel—excluding the re chief—Robinson said hiring decisions are made by the MVFD executive board. The suit alleges Noriega was hired with a salary of $123,000 and was promoted in November to assistant re chief with a salary of $142,000 despite “minimal qualications” and a recent criminal his- tory, according to a Dec. 30 letter included in the case documents by Grant’s attorney. Noriega’s experience listed on the MVFD website includes master’s degrees in business administra- tion and public administration, which is pending. Qualications for membership into the MVFD—of which Noriega has been a member since 2019, per the MVFD website—state members must not have been convicted for any oense other than minor trac violations within ve years preceding the

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COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER • COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM

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