By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette
TULARE —The City of Tulare has been without a permanent city manager since March, 2018, when the former manager was let go. As of June 4, that seems to be resolved. After an exhaustive search the City Council voted to hire Interim City Manager Rob Hunt to fill the position.
Interim managers from other departments have been filling those shoes including the City’s former fire chief, Willard Epps, who held the position through the end of 2018 when he retired. He was followed by Hunt, who has been wearing the hat since the end of December.
Hunt has worked for the City for 27 years. He was initially hired as a park supervisor and promoted to park specialist. Later he moved to the planning department where he served as an associate planner and was promoted to senior planner. But, when the Parks and Recreation Department needed a manager, he took that on. He went on to serve as community development director and was upgraded when the City did some restructuring to a new title and description of community services director.
“I’ve always enjoyed serving the City,” Hunt said. “The City has been good to me.”
Tulare had found itself in a pickle in March, 2018 when former city manager, Joe Carlini, fired the police chief, Wes Hensley, and then Council let Carlini go a few hours later. Hunt took the reins for a few days until Council officially named Epps as interim city manager. Former police captain, Barry Jones, took on the position of interim city police chief until he retired at the same time as Epps.
Hensley had been on paid administrative leave prior to being let go and was in the process of suing the City prior to Council deciding to reinstate him in January. The search for a new permanent manager was slowed by the election of two new council members last November and allowing for them to be sworn in, in December 2018. The decision by the newly seated council was to hire an employment firm to help with the applicant search.
On the suggestion of Human Resources Director Janice Avila, the City hired William Avery & Associates out of Los Gatos at a cost of $18,900 plus added expenses of advertising and clerical help to not exceed an additional $7,000, Avila said.
“They cast a wide net,” she said.
Following confidential recruitment, Council conducted personal interviews with six applicants who all happened to be from California. It was narrowed to two, each for a second interview, with Hunt edging out the competition by a 3-2 vote during closed session on June 4. The “aye” votes were placed by Councilmember Terry Sayre, Vice Mayor Dennis Mederos, and Mayor Jose Sigala. The “nay” votes were placed by councilmembers Carlton Jones and Greg Nunley.
“I’m pleased,” Sigala said of the decision. “Rob has demonstrated he is up for the task.”
Hunt said he is looking forward to working under the direction of the current council, each of whom he knows and works with well.
As a new councilmember, Mederos had been a large proponent for holding a wide search.
“It was very important that we have a process that vets all of the candidates and puts the City in a position to select the best candidate possible,” he said. “At the conclusion of that process and considering the performance Mr. Hunt has had in the interim, his selection, in my opinion, became obvious.
“I believe he is going to do an excellent job for the City and we’re ready to move Tulare forward. With this selection, we have essentially eliminated the word ‘interim’ from the City. The only position that needs filling is the one that’s being vacated by him.”
Filling that position will be one of the first priorities for Hunt once the final contract is signed, which is expected to be at the next Council meeting on June 18.
Hunt and his wife, Melissa, a teacher with the Tulare Unified School District, live in the City.
“I have always taken seriously the title of public servant,” Hunt said. “I have a great team that will support me, and like the community we’ll rise to any occasion.
“I’m excited. I didn’t think when I started out [working for the City] that I ever, ever would have this job.”