By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette
TULARE —While it is not unusual for a city to be involved in various forms of litigation from time to time, what is unusual is for that litigation to be brought about by their very own city council member.
That is just one issue the City of Tulare is having with Councilman Greg Nunley. Nunley’s attorney, James Wilkins, served the City with a claim notice on March 19 demanding a public apology and $16.5 million in damages to boot.
In addition to serving on the council, Nunley is a real estate developer with several projects within Tulare’s city limits.
In a letter sent to Tulare’s City Attorney Mario Zamora, Wilkins stated:
“It has become apparent that THE CITY has… improperly interfered with Mr. Nunley’s business activities and otherwise caused him and his business to suffer substantial injury and economic damages, and damages to their reputations.”
There has long been angst between city employees and Nunley, even before he was elected to council in 2016. He has told the Sun-Gazette he feels Tulare employees, particularly within the Community Development Department with whom he has to work, have been unfair to him.
Last August, Nunley had a lawsuit thrown at him with 12 causes of action listed including alleged 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 (FPPC) for failure to file a 2018 Statement of Economic Interests form with the city. The suit was filed by Visalia attorney Michael Lampe on behalf of David Frost, a retired Tulare police lieutenant and concerned citizen.
While the fees have allegedly now been paid, the other issues remain.
In December of last year, a Public Records Act (PRA) by Lampe resulted in information the city had hired outside attorney, Daniel Rowley, to look into allegations made by city staff. Especially some within the Community Development Department, against Nunley. The response stated:
“On November 9, 2018, Josh McDonnell, the City of Tulare Community and Economic Development Director, testified under oath regarding efforts by Tulare City Councilman Greg Nunley to have multiple City employees fired who work on his projects. Mr. McDonnell further testified that the City has retained the services of Attorney Daniel Rowley to conduct an investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct engaged in by Councilman Nunley.”
In the past, to the Sun-Gazette, Nunley has disputed claims made that he threated City staff. While he took our call, he had no comment regarding any disputes or issues at this time and referred any questions to his attorney.
In the letter from Wilkins, he writes the alleged damages made to Nunley by the City include the publishing, of false statements that Nunley and his business failed to timely pay fees, and failed to submit proper paperwork in connection to development activities. Also, that the City deliberately applied inconsistent and unfair standards and scrutiny to his projects. And, that the City forced Nunley and his company to perform unnecessary work not asked of other contractors or developers.
On the April 15th City Council agenda, city staff’s recommendation was to reject the liability claim for damages.
“These aren’t the types of claims that we would accept,” Zamora told the Sun-Gazette.
For example, Zamora says if a city truck hit and damaged a residential fence, a liability claim would include a written estimate for repairs. The City could then agree to pay for those repairs if they agree the truck damaged the fence.
In a claim such as that of Nunley, there is no proof of the claim or quantifying facts as to the alleged damages claimed, Zamora said.
Mayor Jose Sigala and Vice Mayor Dennis Mederos each deferred comment to Zamora.
However, Sigala did tell the Sun-Gazette, “I do share the concerns that community members have brought up with how a council member could serve in this type of situation.”
Meanwhile a few “Recall Nunley” signs have been spotted around the City, but have also been taken down. Nunley was elected to serve Tulare District 5 through November 2020.
As of press time, the Sun-Gazette had not received a return call from Wilkins.