Tulare Council approve reimbursement, new city manager decision nears

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Tulare Council approves development reimbursement agreement, decides to start work on narrowing field for new city manager

By Nancy Vigran @TheSunGazette

Tulare – In a 4-0 vote, Tulare City Council quietly passed to execute an oversized reimbursement agreement with Del Lago Place, LLC on August. 21. Councilman Greg Nunley had recused himself and left the room, as the other council members passed the item on the consent calendar. Nunley is the owner of Del Lago Place.

Normally, a reimbursement agreement would not be a big deal. They are fairly routine. But, this one has been on the books for years. The agreement involves residential subdivisions of Bella Oaks and Tesori, for which Nunley is the developer. Since some of the improvements include Mooney Blvd. to the east, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) is also involved. The total estimated cost for reimbursement is close to $644,000 plus the value of the land involved for a right-of-way of a right turn lane onto Mooney.

The agreement is more convoluted and larger than most agreements, City Engineer Michael Miller later told the Sun-Gazette. “There have been a lot of negotiations back and forth – what the improvements and expenses would be, not that the position of the city has changed much.”

Somethings, such as moving above ground power pole lines, the city will not reimburse for, and Nunley wanted that included, Miller said. However, the city was able to help negotiate on somethings with CalTrans to benefit the developer.

“I’m happy that I finally got the agreement,” Nunley told the Sun-Gazette. “We’re going to start the work as soon as possible, hopefully by the end of the year.”

Nunley added that he must reapply for a permit through CalTrans before work can begin. He further said that he had not been willing to start the required improvements until the agreement was in place – that may have jeopardized the reimbursement.

“After nine years, I can finally finish the project,” he said, adding that he is not alone, as he does have other partners in the project.

No Effect on Lawsuit

This development, among others, is included in a lawsuit filed on August 3, against Nunley and various construction firms by Visalia attorney Michael Lampe for his client, David Frost, a longtime Tulare resident. The suit lists 12 causes of action, alleging charges of unpaid development fees, impermissible use of Nunley’s official position as councilman to influence a governmental decision, a threat of retaliation against city staff, and a violation of the Fair Political Practice Commission for failure to file a 2018 Statement of Economic Interests form with the city.

In the 9th Cause of Action, the claim was made that Nunley, “failed to publically identify the financial interest giving rise to his conflict of interest,” with a city council agenda item on June 5, regarding the Tesori subdivision, of which he is the developer. The suit also states, he “failed to immediately step down from the council dais,” and he “failed to leave the room until the council’s discussion and vote was concluded.”

It further claims, “Nunley directly addressed the council and urged the council to amend the agreement.”

These allegations were said to occur during a June 5 council meeting, when a 12-month extension of the Tesori Subdivision Improvement was sought and received.

Nunley asserted the matter was on the consent calendar and not during general business. He did recuse himself and stepped down from the dais to sit into the audience, which he said he has the right to do.

When Michael Noland, an attorney for another developer, as well as Lampe, spoke out against the extension, Nunley decided to speak up in defense.

“That is my right,” he later said. “I am still a citizen.”

According to the minutes of that council meeting, the other four council members discussed whether the appropriate bond was in place, required for the extension. The item was placed on hold until the end of the meeting, when staff members had had a chance to research and find that indeed the bond was in place, and the four remaining council members, less Nunley who was recused, approved the extension.

The extension was necessary while waiting for the reimbursement agreement, Nunley later said

“The [recent reimbursement] agreement has no effect on the pending case,” Lampe told the Sun-Gazette.

City Manager Applications Readdressed Due to Citizen Concerns

The last item of the August 21 open session council agenda was to readdress the city manager hiring process. In June, council had a consensus of 3-2 to table that process until after the November election, following which two current members would be stepping down and replaced by newly-elected members.

This came on the heels of a change in leadership within council, with former mayor Carlton Jones, being relieved of his duties, and Councilman David Macedo being asked to fill the mayoral position through November. The decision for appointment of a permanent city manager has been placed on hold until following the November election, Interim City Manager Willard Epps had also told the Sun-Gazette. But, now in August it was being brought back to council at the request of Mayor Macedo. Macedo is one of the council members who will be retiring from council come December.

Macedo said, “The request comes from citizens that have concerns that we hire a strong city manager at some point, soon. So, the best thing to do is to get it out there and be transparent as to what this council would like to do.”

He further suggested that council review the applicant pool individually and move forward, or they could stop the process and wait until November.

Councilman Jose Sigala said that council had already taken a position and asked just what was changing. Macedo responded that there had been some council members who wanted to wait, and others who had not, “so now we’re having the discussion.”

Sigala’s response was that the discussion had already taken place. “Obviously we can discuss this at every council meeting until the election, if you want to, but I want the public to understand that we had a consensus in June that we would hold off on appointment of a city manager.”

Councilman Nunley argued there was no consensus, and Sigala should not make it sound like it was unanimous. Sigala denied stating he knew it was not unanimous, simply that is was a consensus, and indicating that a new council would be seated in early December. He didn’t want a potential problem of a new city manager being hired in a split vote, and new council members wishing they had the ability to participate in that selection, he said.

Interim Manager Has Limited Time to Serve

Human Resource Director Janice Avilla asserted a fairly new ruling by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) in which vacant city personnel positions could now only be filled for 960 days within a fiscal year, by an interim employee. Therefore, Epps, who is also the city’s fire chief, could only act as interim city manager for 960 hours, or approximately six months.

This gave Macedo and other council members a further boost to move forward.

Macedo urged the council to at least start the process, or there may be no applicants left (from the May applicant recruitment) come November, and then they’d have to restart the recruitment process. He suggested the current council narrow the field to 10, and that perhaps the new council may still get the final vote.

Vice Mayor Maritsa Castellanoz, who is also leaving council following the November election, stated that she, too, had heard from numerous citizens asking to fill the permanent city manager position as soon as possible.

Mayor Speaks for Candidates Vying to Fill His Upcoming Vacated Seat

Macedo went so far as to say, “I’m very comfortable with the two gentlemen running in my district. They’ll be very happy if I happen to choose the new city manager; with whoever I choose. I see them both sitting in the crowd. They may not even want the pressure just coming right on the council. I feel reasonably sure that they’d be very happy with my judgement if we even came to somebody.”

The two gentlemen running for Macedo’s seat are Chris Harrell and Dennis Mederos. While in general they each have confidence in Macedo, who has been seated on city council for 20 years, each told the Sun-Gazette, there were a few concerns.

If there are other potential candidates for city manager, “they should come forward now,” Mederos said, although he admitted he was not sure if any more applications would be accepted. “The most important thing at this time is we get absolutely the best solution possible.”

While he has some concern that the last official day of the application recruitment was in early May and there may now be more potential candidates available, he does feel confident in a decision of the current council.

Candidate Harrell said, while the 960-day CalPERS rule is of consideration, he also feels the new council members should have a say in the final decision. “It is of high importance to make sure the new council is able to do their due diligence and homework to find the most ideal candidate for the future of our city.”

Narrowing the Application Field

There had been 40 applicants before the close of the application period on May 4. Since that time, two have pulled their applications, and two new applications were accepted. All applications have been prescreened by the Human Resources standard according to Avilla.

Sigala stated, he feels this is not the correct direction to go in, but the council consensus is to now move forward by each visiting Avilla’s office to privately review candidate applications and narrow their choices to 10 each. Council can then discuss, in closed session potentially at the September 4 meeting, their lists and see who may appear on all lists or the majority of lists to narrow the field to those who would be invited to an interview. In the meantime, Avilla will be contacting the applicants to let them know the process is moving forward.

The applicant names are not public record, to protect their privacy, Avilla said in a subsequent interview. However, it is not unusual for the public to be invited to witness the interview process when it occurs. She added council could ask the council candidates to attend interviews, should they take place before the election, so they could assert their input as well. Often times, a city manager from a neighboring city, or council members from other cities may also be asked to participate in the panel interview applicants for an unbiased point of view, she added.

 

 

 

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