Visalia City Council narrows District 1 seat to six candidates

Visalia City Council will hold final interviews, make appointment to fill Phil Cox’s seat during Aug. 12 special meeting

VISALIA – The field of candidates vying for the District 1 seat on the Visalia City Council has been narrowed to six.

The city council initially received 16 applications by the July 27 deadline to apply for the seat vacated by the unexpected passing of Vice Mayor Phil Cox. Two of the candidates withdrew their applications on Aug. 3 and two more on Aug. 4. The remaining dozen were reviewed by the council at a special meeting later that day. During the Aug. 4 meeting, the councilmembers split up into pairs to interview the candidates, with Councilmember Greg Collins and Brian Poochigian interviewing one group and Mayor Steve Nelsen and Councilman Brett Taylor interviewing the other group.

At the end of the meeting, the council nominated six applicants to move onto the final round of interviews this Thursday, Aug. 12. The finalists include retired Judge Howard Broadman, Deputy County Counsel for Kings County Frank Ruiz, Deputy Chief Credit Officer for Suncrest Bank Nathan Halls, Kaweah Delta Hospital Foundation director Liz Wynn, instructional technology specialist for the Office of Education Steve Woods and private voice and piano instructor Lauren Farris.

Nathan Halls

Halls moved to Visalia 15 years ago from southern Fresno County. Similar to Cox, Halls is used to crunching the numbers and evaluating the financial health of organizations. He has worked in the banking industry for more than 20 years at four different banking institutions, the most recent being Suncrest, which is headquartered in Visalia. For the last six years, Halls has been the deputy chief credit officer for Suncrest Bank, which recently merged with Citizens Business Bank.

More than just looking at numbers, Halls said he aspired to match Cox’s active, selfless leadership in the community. Cox not only attended lots of events but also helped plan them behind the scenes.

“I once spotted him mowing my neighbor’s lawn as part of a service project,” Cox said. “That is the kind of public servant I aspire to be.”

Halls has been volunteering long before he moved to Visalia as a volunteer firefighter in Kingsburg. He has served on and chaired the board of directors for the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Tulare County and served as vice chair of the Visalia Rescue Mission.

“Serving on the city council is the next step in serving the city I have come to call home,” Halls said. “Having lived in small towns my whole life, I understand there are unique challenges.”

He applauded the city for taking a leadership role in finding ways to fund and identify a location for a low-barrier shelter and said he believed it was a prime example of taking a necessary step of doing what was best for the city as a whole.

“Difficult decisions have to be made for the good of the city as a whole. Pleasing everyone is impossible,” Halls said. “I felt you listened to the community and the council did what it needed to do for all of Visalia.”

Howard Broadman

Broadman started his career in law as an attorney in 1977 in Visalia and spent a dozen years on the bench of the Tulare County Superior Court from 1988 to 1999 and two years as a municipal judge from 1986 to 1988. Broadman was known for his unusual sentencing such as making a thief wear a T-shirt proclaiming he was on probation, forcing a man who assaulted a woman to donate his car to a shelter for battered women and ordering a man who beat his ex-wife to leave town. In a 1992 interview with Time Magazine, Broadman called the sentencings “poetic justice” but one of them nearly got him killed.

In spring 1991, Broadman ordered a defendant, who had pleaded guilty to beating her children brutally, to get a birth control implant instead of sentencing her to four years in prison. Broadman told Time he did it because the low-income woman said she didn’t want any more children and the state would pay for the implant if it was part of a court order. The woman, Darlene Johnson, agreed to the sentence but later appealed the decision saying Broadman violated her reproductive rights.

On May 4, 1991, Harry Bodine smuggled a .357 Magnum revolver in a briefcase into Judge Broadman’s courtroom and shot at him while he was sitting on the bench. The man said he was upset with Broadman’s decision to sentence Johnson to getting birth control even though he had no connection with the case. The California Parole Board recommended the now 75-year-old Bodine for parole a month ago.

Broadman has spent the last 20 years in mediation and arbitration for a variety of law ranging from wrongful deaths to estate and trust cases and spent time as a special master in neutral evaluation. He cites both as qualifications for the city council.

Elizabeth “Liz” Wynn

Wynn was recently named the 26th Assembly District’s 2021 Woman of the Year for her commitment to community service in Visalia. She was a founding member of Church of the Nazarene’s sports program, helped establish the foundation for the Downtown Rotary and helped form the Visalia Economic Development Council.

“I would be honored to have the opportunity to fill the void left by Councilmen Cox’s passing,” Wynn said.

Wynn is probably best known for her work as executive director of the Visalia Emergency Aid Council (VEAC), which provides food for 1,100 families each month. Under her leadership, VEAC broke ground on a new 6,000-square foot warehouse in 2018. VEAC’s facility dated back to 1931 when the VEAC was built on the former offices and personnel barracks for CalFire.

“I have personal and professional experience in planning issues, contract negotiations, community conflict and employee management,” Wynn said.

Wynn currently serves as director of the Kaweah Delta Hospital Foundation whose mission it is to support the needs of the Kaweah Delta Hospital District. Philanthropic support has been an essential part of their growth, and has helped them save countless lives. Investments from the community assist efforts to equip the hospital with the latest technology that allows patients to remain in the local area while receiving care.

Wynn has seen many of the issues the city council is dealing with up close during her time on the Visalia Planning Commission in 2004 and 2005, and from 2014 to 2019. Wynn said she is only interested in serving as an interim councilmember and was not interested in running in 2022 to complete the remaining two years of Cox’s term.

“My years on the planning commission and management experience in the job market will assist me in coming up to speed rapidly on pressing issues that the City currently faces,” Wynn said.

Frank Ruiz

Ruiz began his career as a law clerk for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in 2013. After passing the State Bar in 2014, he worked as an associate attorney for Children’s Advocacy Group in San Bernardino before taking a position with the Office of County Counsel for Kings County later that same year.

“My ability to present to the Board of Supervisors, conduct trainings with the Human Services Agency, attend Committee meetings as the country’s legal representative, all translate well into my versatility and ability to fill this position,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz’s involvement in city committees started with the Waterways and Trails Committee in 2016. He currently sits as chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, which oversees the city’s annual Public Opinion Survey and helps with public outreach on a variety of issues. He also noted his current role as legal counsel for the Kings County Homeless Collaborative as valuable experience for making informed decisions in Visalia.

“I have an appreciation for those who work in local government and understand how important working relationships are to creating a successful work environment,” Ruiz said.

Lauren Farris

Farris is a sixth generation Visalian and not only serves the community but wants to advocate for those being underserved in the community.

“I consider the current vacancy a loud and clear call to step forward and be of service to my community,” she said. “I know I can be a positive and constructive voice for our city and constituents within District 1.”

Farris has been an advocate for many causes within the community including Autism awareness, food insecurity, homelessness and mental health. She said she brings an eclectic skill set which has helped her co-found a nonprofit and raise money for women, children and families in need in her hometown.

“I believe in being the change you want to see in the world and it starts at home,” she said. “Visalia has been and continues to be my home and I believe I will make a greater impact in our community as a member of the City Council.”

Farris is self-employed as a voice and piano instructor and is an avid supporter of the arts. She said her goal would be to bring a new, unique viewpoint to the council and use that platform to encourage others to get more involved in city government.

“Being an entrepreneur has encouraged me to innovate, to constantly think of how things might be able to be done better, and to get creative with perceived problems,” she said. “It also taught me to let things go that aren’t working.”

Steve Woods

Woods says community service has been a part of who is since moving to Visalia in 1986. After serving 10 years in the U.S. Navy, Woods returned home and began volunteering as a librarian in Visalia Unified. Since 2006, Woods has served as chair of the Visalia Parks and Recreation Commission which has been tasked with important work to help the council make decisions such as studying the cost of a possible new community center and an aquatics center and providing key input on the city’s Active Transportation Plan.

“I understand the complexities inherent in decision making, the importance of collaborative work, and the absolute necessity of communication to those I’ve served,” Woods said.

Woods is no stranger to competing for a seat on the city council. He ran to succeed Warren Gubler in District 3 after Gubler announced he would not seek re-election. Current Councilmember Brian Poochigian emerged from the three-way race which also included Merritt Wiseman.

Final interviews of the candidates will be on Thursday, August 12 beginning at 3:30 p.m. The council must appoint someone to the District 1 seat by Aug. 13, 2021, in accordance with California Government Code and the city’s own charter. Government Code Section 36512(b) provides that “the council shall, within 60 days from the commencement of the vacancy, either fill the vacancy by appointment or call a special election to fill the vacancy.” Cox died on June 16 from cancer at the age of 64.

Whoever is appointed to fill Cox’s seat will only hold the appointment until November 2022, the next general election. The winner of that election will then serve the balance of the term, or until the conclusion of the November 2024 election.

While the submission period is now closed, those interested in learning more about the City Council are invited to reach out to senior staff and/or the City Council to learn more about the position and the organization. To schedule an appointment, contact City of Visalia Administration at 559-713-4355.

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