By Nancy Vigran @TheSunGazette
Rumors of a “city council blue-like flu” were snuffed at the July 24 Tulare City Council meeting. Council had been scheduled to meet the week prior, but did not have a quorum. Vice Mayor Maritsa Castellanoz, Councilman Greg Nunley and Councilman Carlton Jones were absent.
“We did have advanced knowledge of two—the last one was hung up [just prior to the meeting],” said Mayor David Macedo. “This was not planned,” he emphasized.
Macedo went on to say that council pays its members $10 per month, and members do have day jobs. Conflicts do happen.
The reason for the rumors stems from the previous council meeting on June 19, where reorganization for the council was voted upon. Former mayor, Carlton Jones, lost his title and Macedo was appointed mayor to fulfill the term through the end of the year. The vote was unanimous including those of Jones and Macedo.
This was the latest in a series of incidences that have plagued council for roughly the past year.
A Possible Inappropriate Meeting, and Administrative Leave for the Police Chief
The major problems seemingly began following what may have been an innocent meeting between Jones, the Tulare Police Officers’ Union President James Kelly, and a third party in September 2017. However, Jones paid for meals for the three at Cattleman’s Restaurant in Selma through unauthorized use of a city credit card.
Then former city manager, Joe Carlini, told former police chief, Wes Hensley to investigate the meeting. He later recanted the request, however, Tulare PD had already started the investigation and continued in that vain. Jones reimbursed the city for the charges, but it had gone way beyond the use of the card by that time. Questions arose to why the then mayor was meeting with a TPD detective at all.
On Sept. 27, Hensley was placed on paid administrative leave due to something that occurred on the date TPD officers were sent to Cattleman’s to investigate the meeting. Subsequently, on Nov. 7, two other TPD command staff officers, Cpt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman, were also placed on leave, although Carlini had said at the time, the reasoning for each was different. External investigations were demanded by Carlini. It took a few months for the former city attorney, Heather Phillips, to hire John McGinness, a former Sacramento County Sheriff and current Sacramento radio host.
On March 20, prior to completion of the investigation, Carlini fired Hensley with rather vague reasoning.
“You are not being dismissed from employment as the result of misconduct. You are being dismissed to further the goals of this Organization, due to a loss of confidence in your ability to lead the Police Department in a manner that is consistent with the goals of this Organization; having management style that is incompatible with this Organization’s/Administration’s goals and the philosophies of leadership upon which they are based.”
Hensley could be fired at any time with and without any specific reason, according to his contract with the city.
Carlini, himself, was also fired later that evening, by city council. While the reasoning remains within private personnel records, Carlini had been under evaluation review during closed session for at least three council meetings prior to his termination.
Interim Department Heads, and More Interim Department Heads
One department head, Rob Hunt, community services manager, was named interim city manager. Less than one week later, council changed its mind, pulled Hunt and named the city’s fire chief, Willard Epps, as interim city manager, a position he still holds. TPD Captain Barry Jones was named as interim police chief and has been serving in that capacity ever since.
Requests for proposal (RFPs) were made and have closed for both permanent positions, with 37 applications submitted for city manager, Epps said. However, following the change in leadership within council, the decision for appointment of a permanent city manager has been placed on hold until following the November election, Epps told the Sun-Gazette. Since the police chief position is appointed by the city manager, that permanent position is also on hold until a new city manager is in place.
Ynclan and Boatman were placed back on duty on May 29, following completion of the outside investigation and its review by Interim Chief Jones.
Meanwhile, the city attorney contract was up for renewal in early June. Goyette and Associates, a Sacramento-based law firm, had one of its attorneys, Heather Phillips, serving in that capacity, assisted by Sarah Tobias, both located in the firm’s Fresno offices. They served the city for a bit longer than one year, following the recommendation of former mayor Jones. Jones had sold the council, with a 4-1 vote, on the idea of the firm as a one-stop law firm to meet all the city’s needs at $30,000 per month in 2017. One problem was the attorneys had no prior municipal experience. Another, according to several members of staff, they were not keeping up on the city’s needs nor addressing Public Information Act requests in a timely fashion.
Council directed Epps to locate a firm which would be available to serve Tulare’s current needs while a RFP could be placed and various applying firms could be analyzed. Epps told the Sun-Gazette, he narrowed the field to two firms, choosing Griswold, LaSalle, Cobb, Down & Gin, LLP, Inc. as they had staff readily available. The firm, based in Hanford, currently serves as city attorneys for Woodlake, Lindsay, Coalinga and Hanford. Their interim service was approved by council on July 24, and is filled by Mario Zamora from the firm.
From Mayor to Councilman
Following Jones’ controversial meeting last October, the councilman has come under fire ever since. The last ire was over debates he entered into on Facebook with one of the founding members of the My Job Depends on Ag movement.
In May, Jones wrote, “…strips the natural resources and contaminates our ground water and air” and “causes asthma and valley fever, cancer and kills bees,” during a conversation on a private Facebook page.
However, his comments were made to the sister of Erik Wilson, the aforementioned My Job Depends on Ag co-founder. Wilson, who had said he was admittedly frustrated with people coming down on the Ag community, decided to repost the thread on the My Job’s page:
“I’m blasting you on my Facebook page called My Job Depends on Ag. 81,000 people are reading your dumbass comments. Many of them are from Tulare. Have a nice day Mayor,” he wrote to the former mayor.
“Here’s your mayor Tulare. Tulare, Ca home to the World Ag Expo. The most productive agricultural county in the entire USA. Tulare Ag generates more dollars alone than some states do. And this is your mayor? What a complete moron,” he posted on the My Job’s page.
The former mayor had tried to calm the waters by holding an “invitation-only” town hall on May 31, but it really didn’t work. Later, Jones stated that although attendees had to RSVP, it was intended to be open to any member of the community.
The thread had traveled amongst the community and locals turned out in force for both of the June council meetings, filling the council chambers, overflow room and lobby. Hours-long public comment periods ensued, resulting in the restructuring of council.
Where the City Goes from Here
While some might consider the fact the city currently has interim placement in three important positions of city management, others consider it a blessing following the turmoil of the last several months. The recent council meeting was attended by significantly less people, between 30-40.
Former police chief Hensley is pursuing his court case against the city for not allowing a formal hearing in his termination along with other things. Carlini has applied for a position within the city public works department in which he formerly was department head. And, there is still a law suit against the city for untimely and improper handling of public information requests.
Two council seats are up for election in November – District 4, currently held by Macedo, who has publicly stated he does not plan on running for re-election, and District 2, held by Vice Mayor Maritsa Castellanoz, who was appointed to her current seat. Castellanoz, has yet to file paperwork, although two others, Terry A. Sayre and Alex Guttierrez, have filed. Chris Harrell has filed paperwork for the District 4 seat.
While Carlton Jones is no longer mayor, there is still some talk of a recall campaign against him, following the My Job Depends on Ag debacle. However, there is little expectation that would be organized in time to appear on the November ballot.