Political Warfare Comes to the Once-Quiet Community of Dinuba

The normal quiet, steady flow of small town politics in the city of Dinuba, tucked away in the rural northeastern reaches of Tulare County, has taken on an ugly face that threatens to rip the fabric of the once-tranquil community.

Many in this community of approximately 24,000 residents are shocked and angry over what they see as a no-holds-barred, gutter-level mentality spreading throughout their community as a determined recall drive targeting the city’s mayor and two city council members moves forward.

Citing what they allege as repeated examples of fiscal mismanagement and chronic over-spending by city leaders, cronyism, lack of transparency and city leadership isolated from the people they serve, the dozen or so members of Grassroots – Citizens for Dinuba are going door to door, district by district, collecting the signatures needed to force a recall in a community where no one seems able to remember one before.

The three targeted council members say they are stunned as they have watched the tone of the recall campaign quickly descend to what they regard as a level of viciousness quite unlike anything the community has known.

“The citizens group is going door-to-door spreading outright lies and saying anything just to get the signatures they want,” said Dinuba City Council Member Mike Smith, “going as far as changing their stories and lies from one door to the next. It’s totally crazy the things they claim the council has done.”

A flyer created by the group “Grassroots ­— Citizens for Dinuba”
A flyer created by the group “Grassroots ­— Citizens for Dinuba”

Smith said that the group has passed out flyers alleging that council members have voted themselves and upper-management city workers 4% pay raises for three consecutive calendar years, flagrantly violating rules set forth in the city’s charter. Smith said he still banks the same $257 take home pay each month that he has been getting for a number of years as a part-time city employee serving on the council. He said he receives no health benefits through his employment with the city.

Smith has worked for over 20 years as a construction salesman at a private corporation not connected with the city he serves as a council member. With 13 years on the council, Smith is far and away the most veteran member of the city’s five-person council.

He has attempted several face-to-face discussions with the group in order to convince them to come to the table for a civilized discussion of their concerns, but they repeatedly refuse to talk with him or to state clearly or coherently what their concerns are.

Smith said he refuses to stress over any eventual outcome of the recall drive, which he has no control over, and “if anybody has any legitimate concerns about the way I carry out my duties on the council, they have every right to voice them publically in a civilized manner, but not the way that members of Citizens for Dinuba is going around spreading lies and intimidating city residents in an attempt to persuade them to sign the petitions.” Smith ran unopposed in his past two council elections.

The founder of Grassroots – Citizens for Dinuba spoke with the Valley Voice about his reasons for forming the group and masterminding the current recall drive.

Robert Cervantes, who gives his occupation as a real estate investor, moved to Dinuba from the Bay Area in 2003 and “immediately started noticing injustices going on here,” he said. He alleges instances where city property was sold in secret deals to family members, letters sent out by the city in English-only to the city residents, of whom 85% are of Hispanic heritage, and according to Cervantes, two-thirds of them speak no English. Large pay raises (4% annually in each of three consecutive years) were given to the council members themselves as well as to city employees making over $100,000 annually, along with lifetime health benefits packages Cervantes claims. He said that the city purchased property from a former golf course at $15,000 per acre and was now selling off parcels in a hush-hush deal to a developer at less than what the city paid.

The developer dealing with the city has refused to divulge who his investors are, Cervantes claims, insinuating that city employees are likely among that group. Cervantes said the local daily newspaper, the Dinuba Sentinel, is biased in its coverage of local news in favor of the council and won’t print anything about council wrongdoing.

Council Member Aldo Gonzalez, in his first term on the council, was shocked when a flyer began circulating with his picture on it that had been lifted from the city’s website. Text surrounding his picture was in the form of a letter informing the public that he (Gonzalez) had voted for sizable pay raises and expensive health benefits packages for city employees, along with utility tax increases for residents throughout the city, and through the letter on the flyer was letting the citizens of Dinuba know what he had done in light of the fact that the citizens would be paying off the heavy financial burden for his actions long into the future.

The picture was his, Gonzales said, but he had no personal knowledge at all as to the origin of the flyer and its contents. He did not give anyone permission to use his likeness for their own purposes, he said.

“I’m not into name calling, finger pointing, or none of that stuff,” Gonzales said with a frown, “and I’m very concerned with the direction this whole thing seems to be heading.”

When contacted for his response to questions concerning the origin of the mysterious flyer, Cervantes readily acknowledged responsibility for the flyer and its contents. The picture of Gonzales, he explained, was on the city’s website and therefore in the public domain and a legitimate tool for his purposes.

The text on the flyer, Cervantes explained, was merely a recounting of Gonzales’ actions that Cervantes knew him to be guilty of. Thus, according to Cervantes, the text should be properly viewed as a confession and apology from Cervantes to the residents of Dinuba, despite the fact that Gonzales had taken no part in the flyer or its contents. Cervantes said that he felt in light of these circumstances that what he had done (to Gonzales, as well as deliberately misleading whoever read the flyer)was completely justifiable under the circumstances.

Mayor Janet Hinesly, winding down her four-year term on the council, is up for reelection in November, as is Gonzales, as his own initial stint on the council faces a termed end, should he survive the current recall effort. Hinesly has served as mayor for the past two years, having been elected to the post by her fellow council members.

She is proud of the council’s careful fiscal stewardship that somehow managed to steer the city through the financial tempest of the recession years and emerge into a slowly strengthening economy. The city, says Hinesly, is its best fiscal shape than at any other time in the past 25 years.

“It is hard for me to understand the accusations that are being thrown around so harshly,” said Hinesly reflectively, “There is simply just no reason for them to be so dissatisfied with the way we have handled things for the city. We’re in much better, sound fiscal shape than so many of the surrounding communities.”

Hinesly has received threatening, anonymous calls at odd hours, with a voice warning her to “watch your back” and “we’re going to run you out of town.”

Hinesly, whose husband, Jim, recently retired as a sheriff’s captain after a long career in the sheriff’s office, said that the two of them had long planned for retirement years spent traveling around and taking life easy in their motor home.

“But this vicious recall, and the threatening phone calls intended to scare me and somehow get me to run…that’s getting my dander up a bit,” she said. “And it’s causing me to think a little deeper, like maybe I don’t want to run, or to let them scare me away.

“I might even give it some more thought and maybe decide to run for reelection,” Hinesly said with a wide smile on her face, her brow furrowed in thought.

Hinesly’s district, the smallest of the three engaged in the recall effort, has only 962 registered voters. The verifiable, valid signatures of 30%, or 289 of those registered voters must be turned in by the deadline.

Mike Smith has 1,539 registered voters and 25%, or 385 valid signatures, must be turned in by the deadline of Jan. 13.

District 4 representative Aldo Gonzales has 1,496 registered voters among his constituents and 25% of their valid signatures, or 374, will need to accompany the petition against him when it is submitted no later than January 13.

The Valley Voice will continue close coverage of the recall election in Dinuba as it continues to unfold in the small, pleasant community on our county’s northern fringe.

8 thoughts on “Political Warfare Comes to the Once-Quiet Community of Dinuba

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  1. Whoever is behind these crazy allegation’s seriously knows nothing about the Mayor. She is one of the most straight forward, by the book people I know. And well yes some may say I’m a little bias, but I also know her devotion to her city. She loves her community and would do what ever needed to protect it and make it a better place to live. Lastly if you think for a second this is going to run her out of town……..THINK AGAIN!!!

  2. being a public employee who has been cut and who during these tough fiscal times, and having many friends who have been cut in other public sector jobs, it is hard to understand justifying giving raises, when many are still struggling (whether public or private sector). Just because we are doing better fiscally doesn’t mean “hey, lets go out and give raises to people making $100,000+” while many are still struggling. Especially when people that are struggling are the ones funding those COLA’s. I don’t see why it’s so hard to understand the public finds it to be distasteful. And I’ve gotten harassing phone calls before. But you know what, I called the police and the phone calls stopped. Sounds like an easy fix to me. Three easy buttons… 9-1-1.. problem solved…

  3. The other way to deal with threatening phone calls to a persons workplace is to meet them face to face at Rose Ann Vuich Park

  4. True. But if you don’t know who’s calling it’s kinda hard to do that. Now if they have backbone and aren’t afraid to meet up then you come to a solution. Neither of which solves the problem of raises during a down economy. Besides, it takes a police report for it to make it to a judge if the problem persists. Otherwise, it’s all smoke and mirrors. You need evidence like a witness or a guy hiding in a truck or something.

  5. This recall has certainly gotten out of hand to a point. I don’t know of anything the mayor has said that would indicate she has been intentionally offensive to anyone. We are entitled to our own opinions, but nothing she has done has been worthy of harassing phone calls. I called Robert Cervantes myself and he says that he has not and does not endorse the harassing phone calls. He says he encourages the mayor to file a police report because there is no need for that type of behavior. He also said he wants to know who is doing it jsut as bad as she does, and supports her taking her complaint to the police. He said they may disagree politically, but she doesn’t deserve that treatment. What was startling to me was these phone messages he received from the author of this article. They were distasteful and full of threats and allegations of lies. Yet, the author has done no research. However, I looked up the author and was amazed to see that he is a convicted felon and this is his first stint as a reporter after serving time in San Quentin for drug sales. While I applaud his efforts and example of rehabilitation and proving the system wrong, he should know his behavior is not professional. I’m guilty of my own unprofessionalism at times, but I admit my faults and at a minimum try to establish contact to come to an understanding with those I disagree with. Mr. Cervantes has assured me that he is going to file a police report against the reporter and the Valley Voice for the harassing phone calls. He has no intention of talking to the Valley Voice and has made it clear to the reporter. There is a such thing as freedom of press, however, it shouldn’t be pushed to the brink of harassment. As a lifelong Dinuban (save for time spent away for service in the Marine Corps) I’d like to see cooler heads prevail. For those who are bothering the mayor, I hope she files a complaint and the police find you so that you stop with your harassment. It is unnecessary and proves no point other than the fact you can dial a phone number. I also ask that the reporter exercise better conduct and leave Mr. Cervantes alone. This is not a prison yard or mainline, where people push weight or post up trying to intimidate others. The only result is it leaves a bad taste in peoples mouths and leaves the Valley Voice looking bad. From all sides this makes Dinuba look bad. Whether it’s calling the mayor or harassing a person who is using their constitutional rights for discourse, it all looks bad. And it looks really bad when a reporter, who is relatively new to the area, is calling and leaving messages saying that certain Dr.’s and Council-members are part of the recall. Yet, has absolutely no proof that it is true. Judging by the people interviewed in the article, it serves to show that he may have got that information from specific sources, making them look as if they are the ones insinuating these allegations. I hope this ends soon and our community can move on, but I ask that proof start being used. Whether a recall supporter, non-supporter, or reporter, start using actual evidence and stop using accusatory words. I applaud the author and his mission for rehabilitation. The system has been broken for far to long, and I hope he can be an example of righting the ship. However, Mr. Cervantes has stated he does not wish to talk to you, so please stop before he files a police report and brings discredit upon yourself and your publication. Harassing phone calls is no better than the individual who spoke at the city council, but himself was caught stealing political campaign signs. Dinuba is a great community, and a wonderful place to live. I hope the meaningless tactics on both sides stop, and we move forward with truth and physical evidence from here on out. The residents of this town deserve it. For more on the reporter: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-san-quentin-20140102,0,438986.story?page=2

    • Hi, I’m a staff member with the Valley Voice.

      We apologize for any untoward behavior that the reporter may have demonstrated – we’ve asked him to cease and desist.

  6. For the council members that are making accusations of recieving threatening phone calls and or calls to their work place need to make a police report. By making this statements outwardly to the public only leads one to believe that they are being victimized. They are not, they are adult council members that are being recalled by their constituents of their districts. If they want to be heard then they need to go door to door of their district they are representing and ask them (constituents) are they happy how the city is using their tax money in their community. One of your job as a council representative is to be the voice of your district not a yes person for the city. All voices need to be heard

  7. I will always be a Dinuban at heart. It is disappointing how many people are ill-informed or unaware of how politics actual works. Janet is an amazing lady and perfect for the job. I fully support her and Mike. Afterall no one knows my dad better than me, his faults included!
    “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied proposition, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.” -Mahatma Gandhi

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