Fire chief out of a job after employing daughters, future son-in-law

Amid pressure from his bosses, the chief of a Travis County Emergency Services District has stepped down after a recent American-Statesman and KVUE-TV report raised questions about his employment of two daughters and his future son-in-law.

In a special meeting Monday night, the five-member board of Emergency Services District No. 4 accepted a one-page resignation letter from Chief Florencio Soliz. Soliz said he planned to continue serving through Jan. 23 to fulfill the term of his appointment, but the board made the resignation effective immediately.

The board has scheduled a special meeting for Monday to discuss the appointment of an interim chief.

Board President Frank Fuentes said Soliz’s employment of his two daughters and future son-in-law remain under a board review. Those employees will stay in their current positions for now, he said.

In his letter, Soliz did not specifically mention issues about the employment of family members, but said, “I am comfortable in stating that the time has come for me to move onto other ventures while opportunities are being presented. So, it is with a heavy heart and hearty smile that I am tendering my notice to terminate the fire chief agreement I have with Travis County ESD No. 4.”

The district, which is funded by sales and property taxes, serves a 54-square-mile area throughout Travis County. The board had recently given Soliz a raise from $85,000 to $110,000.

The American-Statesman and KVUE in September reported that board members overseeing the district were not aware Soliz had family members on the payroll.

The arrangement appeared to violate rules Soliz himself had helped set up.

According to the district’s employee handbook, dated June 25, 2012, related employees are allowed to work in the same department, as long as no “direct reporting or supervisor-subordinate relationship exists.”

Soliz, 57, wasn’t the immediate supervisor of either daughter or his soon-to-be son-in-law, but the handbook also says that “members may have no influence over the wages, hours, benefits, career progress and other terms and conditions of their related staff members.”

Although Soliz did not directly supervise any family member, he had final authority over raises and assignments.

Soliz, who had been the district’s chief since 2010, said in previous interviews that his younger daughter, Heather Soliz-Mendoza, was already on the payroll as the district’s field medical officer.

In June, her father signed off on a 6.5 percent salary increase to $54,898 at the recommendation of her immediate supervisor, the department’s assistant chief.

Last fall, Soliz also began employing his other daughter, Traci Soliz, at an annual salary of $48,731 and assigned her to a position in one of the department’s new single-medic response units.

Then this spring, Florencio Soliz added that daughter’s fiancé — his future son-in-law, Joshua Cote — to his workforce as a firefighter and assigned him to the same eastern Travis County station where Traci Soliz is based on an opposite shift.

The hirings meant that 10 percent of the 30-member district have family ties to Florencio Soliz.

Soliz declined to comment Monday night about his resignation.

In September, he said, “I have not done anything I would be concerned about or ashamed of. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, and that I take comfort in that. I didn’t do anything in malice. I don’t get the issue.”

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