By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette
TULARE – Most boxing matches have two fighters in the ring, but at Tulare City Council’s meeting last Tuesday, April 16, there was four.
Absent one Terry Sayre, the remaining council members sparred for a full 90 minutes despite a rather short agenda..
The consent calendar contained staff recommended rejections of claims for damages against the City by current police staff, Lt. Jerod Boatman and Cpt. Fred Ynclan, and prior PD officer Jacob Adney. The items were pulled from the agenda by City Attorney, Mario Zamora, as they needed some legal clarification. The items were then added to yesterday April 23 special meeting agenda.
Councilman Nunley’s claim against the City
Councilman Greg Nunley’s $16.5 million claim for damages and a public apology appeared on the consent calendar, which Nunley recused himself of.
A heated discussion ensued between Councilman Carlton Jones, with Mayor Jose Sigala and Vice Mayor Dennis Mederos over Nunley’s status, and how his position as a councilmember should now be handled considering the potential litigation.
Mederos, who is an attorney by trade, called Nunley’s claim “a game changer.”
“It’s significantly unusual to have a councilmember filing a claim of this magnitude against the City itself,” he said.
Nunley is a local developer with former and ongoing projects throughout Tulare.
The basis of his claim was spelled out in a letter written to the City by his attorney James Wilkins, which stated, “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 positon 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.”
Is there a 1090 violation?
Mederos and Zamora discussed whether Nunley may be involved in a Section 1090 violation, which would involve a conflict of interest made by the councilman.
According to Public CEO, a local government news site dedicated to providing a statewide perspective on California cities, “Section 1090 violations can lead to serious civil and criminal consequences. All that is required for a violation is that the public official acting in his or her official capacity knowingly made or caused to be made a contract in which he or she had a financial interest.”
That possibility seemed implausible to Jones who had made the same claim just a month or two ago toward Mederos regarding a council vote to loan $9 million to the Tulare Regional Healthcare District. Mederos evoked the Rule of Necessity for taking himself out of recusal on the matter allowing for council to have a quorum. However, he did not participate in the discussion or the vote. He had previously recused because he owns neighboring property to the Tulare Regional Medical Center, which the Healthcare District owns and with which the loan will aid in keeping the hospital’s doors open.
Zamora tried to explain the legal issues behind a 1090 violation and that it is a separate issue which does not involve the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
“If it is truly a 1090 issue,” he said, “than the councilmember cannot cure the issue by a recusal. It’s a situation where it’s in front of the board [council] then the rest of the board cannot act on it either.”
This could handcuff council on many major financial issues.
Jones wanted to know who makes the determination if something would be a 1090 issue, would it be the FPPC?
Zamora repeated it was not a FPPC issue, and in this case, he, as the city attorney, would make the determination.
Citizens or council members
“We have to remember that even though we are councilmembers, we are also citizens of the City, and as long as we are acting in that capacity as a citizen, we can do anything other citizens can do,” Jones said.
“I think that’s the point [Zamora] just got to. Really we can’t,” Mederos responded. He referred Jones to a legal case precedent which he offered to provide, “to get a better indication as to just how different it is for us as councilmembers as far as how we interact with the City and what our fiduciary obligations consist of in that regard.”
Jones added he feels that an outside party such as the FPPC needs to make the decision as to any potential violation or conflict between Councilmember Nunley and his business, not anyone within the City.
“It makes me uneasy to sit with a colleague who is suing us,” Sigala said. It’s just not a natural thing. And for me, it’s understanding how someone can serve in that capacity.”
As the exchange continued, the discussion became more heated. But in the end the three councilmembers did agree to the designated agenda issue with Jones motioning to deny the claim followed by a 3-0 vote.
As to the issue regarding Nunley possibly creating a 1090 violation—that remains for future discussion.
On to other topics
Tempers cooled during mutually interested and agreed upon topics such as the formation of an ad hoc committee to welcome the upcoming visit by the mayor of Tulare Sister City Inverell Shire Council, Australia, and the City’s adoption of its 2019-2020 Community Development Block Grant Annual Action Plan.
However, the discussion around who would represent the City during the upcoming annual International Council of Shopping Centers RECon event in Las Vegas caused tempers to flair. In a previous council meeting where Jones was absent, council voted that Sigala would attend the meeting and be the “voice” of the City. Sigala’s interpretation of that vote was that he would be the sole councilmember representing Tulare in attendance despite the fact Jones had attended the past several years as a city representative.
Nunley argued that was not what the vote stated. The vote did approve Sigala’s attendance paid for by the City, he said. It did not, however, dissolve the previous assumption that Jones, too, would have his way paid to represent the City.
Jones argued that he has been the voice for Tulare at the event and already had meetings scheduled for this year. It takes time, he said, to develop relationships and understand potential developers’ needs and desires.
Jones also brought up just how large the convention is and how one person, alone, cannot handle it, especially someone who has never been in attendance before.
Sigala bit back saying that he wanted the City to have “one unified voice,” at the conference and he should be it.
After lengthy discussion and hearing the tape of the previous council meeting with the former motion and vote, it was decided the matter be placed on the April 23 agenda for a final decision.
“It is important that we have a unified presentation and we’re working on the same page,” Sigala later told the Sun-Gazette. “It’s important to fill one of our main goals, which is economic development. It is important that those who attend are able to work together and unfortunately [Jones] has displayed an unwillingness to do so.”