By Juan Montoya
To hear some Brownsville firefighters speak about their chief, there are more than enough grievances against Lenny Perez that would have led the American colonists to revolt under his rule.
This evening at 7 p.m., the Brownsville Firefighters Association will hold a meeting at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post (behind Hygeia's) and tally the ballots on a no-confidence vote against Perez.
Foremost among the complaints against Perez is his alleged arbitrary management style that favors some firefighters over others, his incompetence as witnessed by his recommendation of a company that was not certified to teach paramedics course and cost 15 cadets three months of wasted time and the city $67,000, and his penchant for taking credit for others' acts of valor.
All this has been building over years, say some of Perez's critics, but his recent actions in the handling of firefighter Juan Casanova's funeral broke the camel's back.
In Casanova's case, firefighters say that Perez had instructed the funeral home to give the widow that flag that lined the bottom of the casket and was trying to keep the one on top, the one usually reserved for the dead man's widow. He was also trying to keep the man's badge and used helmet and replace them with others. When firefighters intervened, Perez relented and left the funeral home.
But that was not the unkindest cut, they say.
Casanova was a few months from retirement and Perez could have used the dead man's unused sick leave days to make up the difference and leave his retirement to his widow and Perez refused, even when some of his fellow firefighters volunteered to donate some of theirs.
"Perez was acting like the retirement was his," said one. "Yet he has people under him doing a brisk business selling and buying sick days and he lets it continue."
As a result, it appears that Casanova's widow will not receive anything from the firefighters insurance since Perez has determined that the firefighter did not die on duty even though he was taken from his duties at the firehouse to receive medical care.
Ever since Perez has been fire chief he has garnered a reputation for hogging the spotlight and making decisions that ultimately are overturned on appeal by his targets. He, for example, took credit for the heroic deeds of firefighters and EMS paramedics at the Queen Isabella Causeway disaster by accepting the congressional proclamations and making sure that the real heroes of the day were kept away from City Hall when they were issued.
Just recently, Cameron County held a ceremony honoring first responders who had fallen in the line of duty. As usual, Perez did not inform local firefighters and paramedics of the event but showed up to receive the honors on their behalf decked out in his finest service uniform.
"This is past due," said a firefighter who retired recently. " I'm glad to see that our members are coming to their senses. This poor excuse of a man has been abusing his position of fire chief (and notice I say position because he is no fire chief) for years. It is a shame that a few city commissioners have protected his ineptitude in exchange for for their cronies who need 'uninspected' inspections for their businesses. He is a coward and ends up short of brains. Hes not the capacity to run a department like ours."