Letter To The Editor

Was John Zapalac thrown under the bus?

To The Editor,

Nearly three months have passed since Woodlake Police Chief John Zapalac was forced out of office and still no police chief appointed.

What could the Chief possibly have done that would cause the Woodlake City Council to act in such a callous and unprecedented manner as to leave the City without a police chief?

-Was it because that for the 14 years Chief Zapalac presided over the Woodlake Police Department, crime went down appreciably? I don’t think so.

-Was it because John Zapalac and the police department he headed received numerous County and State accolades, awards and recognitions? I don’t think so.

-Was it because John Zapalac was so successful in the Explorer Program and Camp Zap programs that he established? I don’t think so.

-Was it because the City Council spent $10,000 for a report which it hoped would show that the Chief was reckless, irresponsible and in general, a bad police chief (the opposite was true.) I don’t think so

At the Aug. 13, 2012, board meeting, the citizens of Woodlake confronted the City Council furious that the council had decided to shut down the successful Explorer Program and defund (to the miniscule sum that it did) the Camp Zap program. They expressed their outrage in no uncertain terms. The City Council was publicly humiliated.

Their response: Four days later, on Aug. 17, 2012, without any prior notice, Chief Zapalac was called into the office of the recently appointed city manager, Ramon Lara, who unceremoniously told the Chief that as of that date, his services were no longer required by Woodlake, that he was to turn over his badge, weapon, key to the vehicle provided to him, and the keys to his office. Perhaps if the young Mr. Lara had more experience under his belt, he might have behaved in a more civilized manner toward the Chief. He also might not have lied to the media with the false statement that the Chief retired — he did not.

Woodlake is a very small community; almost everyone is related to everyone else and nowhere is that more evident than on the Woodlake City Council. It is easy to believe the actions taken against the Chief were payback for illegal acts done by many of their family members for which they received proper punishment.

Family members of one council person have been arrested innumerable times by the police department for drunk driving and one grandchild went to prison. Another council member’s son has been arrested three times for drunk driving and his daughter has received a drunk driving conviction. This same council person’s wife was also arrested by the police department. Another council member’s cousin, a former Woodlake police officer, was terminated for cause. The council reinstated the officer, over-riding the Chief’s termination.

And, if this isn’t bad enough, we find out that the new City Manager — aside from having close ties to the council member responsible for bringing Mr. Lara to Woodlake and John Zapalac’s (former) closest ally — is related to another of the council members. Nepotism?

Under John Zapalac’s tutelage, the Woodlake Police Department conducted itself admirably and is to be commended. However, since this current vendetta against the Chief has started, Woodlake has lost two fine young police officers to Porterville. Are there other changes in store for this beleaguered police department?

Last, is the city council contemplating hiring a young man from a neighboring city as Woodlake’s next Police Chief, who, it is my understanding, has not yet agreed to accept the position — thus showing a degree of intelligent thought for whom, in their right mind, would want to associate himself with the Woodlake City Council as it presently stands? And not to disparage a person with a high school diploma (after all, that’s what I have), are you serious that he would be better than someone like John Zapalac with his degrees and years of experience?

What I believe a reasonable person could conclude is that this matter was brought about by an out-of-control City Council with a personal agenda – a dangerous situation for a small city like Woodlake whose motto is “A City with True Western Hospitality.”

And, finally, in answer to the question: “Was John Zapalac thrown under the bus and why?” My answer is Yes. Why: because of an ongoing vendetta by the Woodlake City Council against him.”

Barbara Waldron


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