Council of Cities make argument for COVID-19 recovery funding

All eight Tulare County cities draft letter expressing differences with the county’s decision to go against the state’s Roadmap to Recovery

EXETER – While the county decided to go one way toward recovery, cities have decided to go another. But now they have to make that argument to the state.

In light of the County’s move to go rogue on the states Roadmap to Recovery, and not enforce Governor Gavin Newsom’s order to hold Tulare County in Stage 2 of reopening, the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) sent a letter warning of a potential loss of COVID-19 recovery funding.

The letter, sent to County Administrative Officer Jason Britt, made its way around to each city in Tulare County.

“As you may be aware, the budget proposed in the Governor’s May Revision includes $1.3 billion in COVID-19 recovery funding for county governments, and $450 million for cities,” the letter from CalOES director Mark Ghilarducci stated. “This funding is explicitly contingent upon jurisdictions’ adherence to federal guidelines and the state’s stay-at-home-order. Clearly the action Tulare County has taken would render it and the cities within the county ineligible for this funding.”

Almost immediately, cities sent their response to the state, making their case that the county was acting alone without any input from individual cities. And last week Tulare County’s Council of Cities, made up of all eight cities in the county, met to draft a letter to CalOES expressing why they should continue to be considered for recovery funding.

“As the Council of Cities, all of the incorporated cities within Tulare County express our sincere hope that the actions of the County will not have profound negative consequences on the people of our communities,” the letter stated. “Our citizens have suffered in many ways at the hands of COVID-19 and they do not deserve to suffer further as a result of political actions over which they had no control.”

Exeter, one of the eight member cities on the Council of Cities, considered the draft letter during a special meeting last Wednesday, May 27. Councilman Frankie Alves, who represents Exeter on the Council of Cities was tasked with gathering the Exeter council’s input for a final letter.

All but one member of the Exeter City Council agreed to move forward with the letter. Jeremy Petty, the only no vote, said that he was against the letter in its entirety. Petty said the letter shows a stark break with the county, and instead sides with Gov. Newsom.

“I still don’t think [the Board of Supervisors] did anything wrong necessarily…in the heat of the moment they were trying to get something done,” Petty said. “Exeter has been taking the middle of the road. We haven’t been telling them to open, but we haven’t been telling them to close and now all of a sudden we are taking a stance? That bothers me.”

Exeter mayor, Mary Waterman-Philpott said that the county did not so much as give cities a warning before breaking with the Governors orders. And that is why she supports the letter.

“I think the county should have given us the courtesy of a phone call. They should have asked us how we felt about it,” Waterman-Philpot said. “I think the county needs to give the cities some attention. We vote for them, we’re their constituents and…they need to call the mayors and city managers and see where we stand.”

Alves summarized the letter concisely, saying that the county acted alone.

“We feel like the citizens in our cities should not be punished for what the county decides…if you want to come down on somebody, don’t come down on us,” Alves said.

City attorney, Julia Lew added earlier in the meeting that it is also about the process of the matter.

“The problem was more on the procedural issue,” Lew said. “There were some unforeseen consequences that were not thought through.”

She added that a precedent could have been set as well, that if another encompassing issues arises and the county wants to go their own way, that they will not have to consider the cities.

Just before the vote, that was motioned by David Hails and second by Waterman-Philpot, Petty said that now is a bad time to be a fractured county.

“I think there’s enough strife out there with the state…I think this is not the time to be turning on our own elective representatives, and we need to stand strong as Tulare county and back the people that are representing us,” Petty said.

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