Carlton Jones, Steve Harrell race too close to call in Tulare

Paul Myers

Only 11 votes separate incumbent councilman Carlton Jones from challenger Steve Harrell for Tulare’s third district

TULARE – Some of the most competitive races this election cycle are in the city of Tulare. Two of the three races have been called for certain, but the race to see who captures the city council seat for District 3 is far too close to call.

Carlton Jones
Tulare City Council incumbent

Carlton Jones ended election night on Nov. 3 down by 50 votes to challenger Steve Harrell. But as of Monday, Nov. 9 Jones was ahead by 11 votes, 1,697 to Harrell’s 1,686. Harrell’s lead has been steadily eroding since the first election update came out. On Friday, Nov. 6 he only led by 11. Turnout for the district has been relatively high. As of Monday 3,593 votes were counted. And there are 5,418 registered voters in the district. Making turnout 66.32%.

Things started to get heated on the campaign trail once Harrell’s son was arrested in an online underage sex sting set up by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies imitated young boys and girls online and interacted with local men soliciting sex from minors. The sting nabbed 14 men, among them was Chris Harrell.

Steve Harrell
Tulare Council Candidate

It was reported in other local media and plastered online that Jones defaced a Steve Harrell campaign sign. On social media he tried to link Harrell and his son’s reputation since Chris was managing Harrell’s online presence.

“Steve is responsible for allowing Chris to manage his online account. Especially when Chris tries to molest little boys online,” Jones said.

Harrell responded on social media and said that Chris turned over managing Harrell’s social media account to him, presumably after his arrest. He also said that Jones “needs to get his facts straight” while indicating that deputies in the sting that arrested Chris were imitating a 19-year-old. That has not been confirmed. He added that Jones should focus on his current job: being a city councilman.

“Carlton you need to…concentrate on being a city councilman with integrity and respect for people that are innocent until proven guilty,” Harrell said.

Mayor Jose Sigala easily cruised to reelection in District 1 defeating challenger Clara Bernardo. As of Monday, Nov. 9 the Tulare County Elections Office reported that Sigala was leading by a healthy margin, 61.76% to Bernardo’s, 38.24%.

So far Sigala has 1,675 votes to Bernardo’s 1,037. Turnout in that district has been relatively high as well. Out of 4,671 registered voters, there have been 2,870 ballots counted, making turnout 61.44%.

The two candidates clashed over homelessness in September during The Sun-Gazette’s Tulare City Council online forum for all three district races. Earlier this year the city decided to move forward with an ambitious low-barrier homeless shelter. With Sigala’s support Tulare approved a $500,000 allocation in housing funds for the project that is supposed to provide 76 beds and is slated to be located at 444. E. Cross Ave. The goal is to house all of the city’s homeless by January 2021.

Bernardo said during the forum that she would rather see the money be used for services than just housing.

“Basically, putting them all combined in one roof has never solved anything. And I understand that there’s programs in those shelters that do have help but I believe there’s a lot of other shelters that have the same type of programs,” Bernardo said.

The two candidates had somewhat differing opinions on what the city should do to help their downtown. Bernardo said they should take a few ques from Visalia and invite businesses with interest in staying open later.

“[Visalia has] totally changed that main street around…we come down our K street, we have great businesses down there, but by 5 p.m. everything’s done,” Bernardo said.

Sigala largely agreed but added that the city could do more to beautify their downtown. He added that the city still needs to deal with homelessness in that part of town and perhaps one way to do that is to bring services to downtown.

Bernardo gave her most full-throated indictment of the Tulare City Council over the topic of public trust.

“Truthfully, some of these people need to sit down and shut up and listen to the citizens…if one of them starts up it’s not right to jump on board. You’re here for your district. So, listen to them,” Bernardo said.

Sigala, who’s been on the council for many of the council’s clashes, addressed them head-on. He said that he attempted to create a culture of cooperation among the council when he became mayor but when he called for a meeting to hash out each other’s difference, two members declined to show up. Although, he did not specify who.

“I’ve been very glad to be working with the working majority on our council to bring some stability and some professionalism to our council and try to focus on issues and try not to pay attention to the disruptions at our council meetings,” Sigala said.

District 5 has easily been called for Patrick Isherwood who took the lead on election and never let it go. His initial lead on Nov. 3 was 38.82% and as of Monday it was down just slightly to 38.55% over the remaining four candidates in the field, including incumbent Greg Nunley. Nunley, who said he was ill for The Sun-Gazette candidate forum and was unable to participate, only gathered 12.45% of the vote as of Monday.

Other challengers like Mario Flores gathered the second most votes in the race with 1,507 making up 22.05%. In third place is Grady Dodson who has 1,456 votes making up 21.30%. The only candidate to come in with fewer votes than Nunley was Courtney Oliver. She gathered only 387 votes worth 5.66% of the vote in that race.

Turnout for the council’s fifth district has been unusually high for a local council race. Out of 8,182 registered voters, 7,295 cast a ballot making turnout 79.45%. And still not all of the counting has been completed.

Like Bernardo, Isherwood had some things to say about how the council has behaved in recent years. He went so far as to say he was embarrassed when he took a cohort of his high school students to a city council meeting in the past.

“Instead of bringing a notepad the students should have brought popcorn. The insults, shaming and fighting back and forth, it was embarrassing. The level of professionalism was sad,” Isherwood said.

Woodlake City Council

Woodlake has four seats up for grabs this year, although they are split in an unusual way. Two seats, currently held by mayor Rudy Mendoza and councilman Joe Martinez were up for four-year terms. The other two seats currently held by William “Memo” Valero and Emmanuel Llamas are up for a two-year terms. Valero and Llamas are running to fulfill Louie Lopez’s and Greg Gonzalez’s terms respectively after they were appointed in 2019 and 2020. If one or both of them win they will have the opportunity to run in two more years to be elected to their own four-year terms.

On Monday the county election’s office updated report had Martinez and Mendoza up by 41.46% and 33.75% respectively. Challenging both of them for their seat is Maria Varela who has 24.79%. With Martinez leading Varela 903 votes to 540, there is practically no chance she can overtake him. On the other hand she trails Mendoza by 195 votes. Definitely a smaller gap than Martinez’s but she is not likely to overcome that deficit either with 60.38% of the vote in. So far 1,582 ballots have been counted out of 2,620 registered voters. And 60% turnout or more is relatively good for Woodlake.

For the two-year term vote, Florencio Guerra Jr. captured the lead on election night and has not letting it go. He has 732 votes making up 34.01% of the vote in that race. The second highest vote getter is Valero with 554 votes making up 25.74% of the vote. Llamas has consistently been in third since election night. As of Monday he had 516 votes making up 23.98% of the vote.

It is unlikely that anyone catches Guerra Jr. but the second seat up for grabs could be taken by Llamas if he overcomes the 38 vote difference between him and Valero. Jack Persall is also in this race but has trailed in fourth since last week and only gathered 350 votes so far making up 16.26% of the vote.

Other city council results

The city council races for Lindsay, Exeter and Visalia were called in August after the Tulare County Elections Office filing deadline. As a result Lindsay will have three new council members and have their first all Hispanic council. Exeter replaced just one of their council members in District E after Jeremy Petty stepped down this June. Taking his seat on the dais will be Justin Mills. Brett Taylor replaced mayor Bob Link in a no-contest race for District 2. And Phil Cox will continue to serve District 1 on Visalia City Council.

The results as of Monday Nov. 9 for the following city council races and school districts are as follows:

Dinuba

Area 1 57.99% turnout

Rachel Nerio-Guerrero

53.74% 496 votes

Joshua Huerta

46.26% 427 votes

Area 5 70.96% turnout

Linda Marie Launer

50.20% 635 votes

Andrea McComb Sotelo

26.96% 341 votes

Geno Gomez

22.85% 289 votes

Porterville

District 3 61.07% turnout

Martha Flores

54.48% 1,412 votes

Michael Smith

45.52% 1,180 votes

District 5 60.96% turnout

Kellie Carrillo

47.92% 993 votes

Jerry Hall

44.84% 929 votes

Josh Sulier

7.24% 150 votes

School district results

Several school district board seats were up for grabs all over Tulare County. The results as of Monday, Nov. 9 are as follows:

Tulare Co. Board of Education

Area 2 63.09% turnout

Deborah Holguin

50.05% 6,395 votes

Ruben Macareno

49.95% 6,343 votes

Area 3 71.91% turnout

Tom Link

58.49% 13,661 votes

Miguel Gutierrez

41.51% 9,696 votes

Kern Community College

Area 6 62.33% turnout

Jack Lavers

76.74% 508 votes

Yovani Jimenez

23.26% 154 votes

Alpaugh Unified

2 seats 58.46% turnout

Rafael Loera

6.59% 71 votes

Araseli Leal

22.85% 61 votes

Kristy Mitchell

22.85% 61 votes

William Mitchell

17.60% 47 votes

Jennifer Ortiz

10.11% 27 votes

Cutler-Orosi Unified

Area 1 (2 seats) 54.55% turnout

Marisol Rubalcaba

41.64% 396 votes

Margie Salazar

31.76% 302 votes

Sarah Herrera

26.60% 253 votes

Area 4 64.96% turnout

Joni Jordan

57.38% 206 votes

Tony Werner

42.62% 153 votes

Farmersville Unified

2 seats 57.47% turnout

Alice Lopez

36.74% 1,051 votes

John Vasquez

35.37% 1,012 votes

Manuel Amezcua

27.89% 798 votes

Visalia Unified

Area 5 72.97% turnout

Megan Soleno

57.27% 4,351 votes

Niessen Foster

42.73% 3,247 votes

Area 6 59.35% turnout

Christopher Pope

50.04% 1,985 votes

Lucia Vazquez

49.96% 1,982 votes

Area 7 76.44% turnout

Jacquie Gaebe

40.09% 3,392 votes

Nora Allstedt

22.00% 1,861 votes

Colijia Feliz

17.48% 1,479 votes

Randy Evans

13.09% 1,107 votes

James Reynolds

7.34% 621 votes

Dinuba Unified

Area 4 60.08% turnout

Mary Helen Villarreal

71.72% 738 votes

Joe Rivera Sr.

28.28% 291 votes

Porterville Unified

Area 1 63.92% turnout

Juan Figueroa Jr.

69.05% 1,747 votes

Sonia Lozano

30.95% 783 votes

Area 6 61.95% turnout

Donna Frazier Berry

50.46% 1,796 votes

Anthony Martin

38.86% 1,383 votes

Les Pinter

10.68% 380 votes

Delano Joint Union H.S.

2 seats 58.63% turnout

Arnold Morrison

45.36% 1,036 votes

Jesus Cardenas

27.45% 627 votes

Ray Arvizu

27.19% 621 votes

Allensworth ElemEntary

38.02% turnout

Kayode Kadara

73.81% 31 votes

Goana Toscano

26.19% 11 votes

Pleasant View Elementary

2 seats 57.77% turnout

Rachele Alcantar

36.24% 220 votes

Davy Gobel

25.21% 153 votes

Yalimar Garcia

19.60% 119 votes

Michael Smith

18.95% 115 votes

Richgrove Elementary

2 seats 56.46% turnout

Yaneli Carrillo

36.52% 172 votes

Diego Paniagua

35.88% 169 votes

Hipolito Cervantes

27.60% 130 votes

Stone Corral Elementary

2 seats 57.96% turnout

Erik Gonzalez

33.86% 64 votes

Tom Redemer

33.33% 63 votes

Deborah Roberts

32.80% 62 votes

Terra Bella Unified Elem.

2 seats 64.25% turnout

Alfredo Beltran

40.77% 572 votes

Mariana Lopez

38.77% 544 votes

Rachel Eala

20.46% 287 votes

Tulare City Elementary

Area 2 73.45% turnout

Daniel Enriquez

61.00% 3,321 votes

Brian Spencer

39.00% 2,123 votes

Area 5 59.40% turnout

Connie Diaz

52.10% 1,090 votes

Teresa Garcia

47.90% 1,002 votes

Woodville Union Elementary

3 seats 60.44% turnout

Armando Lopez

40.32% 202 votes

Diana Oceguera-Martinez

23.55% 118 votes

Larry Vasquez

22.36% 112 votes

Amanda Medina

13.77% 69 votes

Woodlake Unified

Area F 70.21% turnout

Edmund Pena

44.10% 288 votes

Veronica Gonzalez

32.16% 210 votes

Dean Taylor

23.74% 155 votes

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