Putting Community First

My mother grew up on a farm in Kansas, one of nine children. My grandfather, R.W. Young, had bought an old farmhouse and property before the depression that nobody wanted. He eventually moved to Wichita, Kansas in the thirties, where he worked as a cattle stockbroker, served as a minister and helped build the church I was raised in as a child. My mother served as waitress at the Fox Den on Douglass Street in Wichita; my father had a radio repair shop down the street, and would walk to the Fox Den everyday for lunch where he eventually met my mother. Soon after, they were married, eventually raising 13 children.

I moved to Los Angeles from Wichita in 1974 to find my fame and fortune, and lived there for the next 15 years. In 1988, I was married and realized that I needed to attend graduate school if I wanted to be in the field of social work. At the same time, my wife needed to complete her teaching credential, and Fresno State was the perfect fit for both of us. Los Angeles never felt like home for a kid from Kansas. Moving to Fresno to attend Fresno State, and a year later to Visalia, felt like home–the midwest, where I grew up.

Maybe I’m being naive, but coming from a place like Wichita, I tended to think of Visalia and this part of California as being like Mayberry RFD–that television show we watched decades ago, where folks help other folks whenever there was need. People looked out for those less fortunate than themselves. Folks were compelled to do the right thing.

Living in Visalia has been a rewarding experience. My wife and I have been able to raise our family here. The schools have been outstanding (Royal Oaks, Green Acres and Redwood) and my children have made lifelong friends. Music and sports are superior at every level. There are many wonderful places to worship. There is a magnificent Main Street in Visalia, and farmers’ markets in Lindsay and all across this county every week. The beautiful Sequoias and Kings Canyon are close by.

Working as an employee of Tulare County since 1989 has also been a rewarding experience. I’ve been privileged to have met many wonderful workers here from all different areas of county work including adult protection, in-home supportive workers, eligibility workers, janitorial, office assistants, countless child welfare services social workers, cooks in the kitchen at the county jail, therapists, sheriff’s officers and CWS-nurses.

When Pete Vander Poel was running for his seat from District Two of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, he stated the following, “the responsibility of government is to serve people. The individuals that we elect to government offices to represent us should be in it to represent interests of their constituents and not their own.” If only the entire Board of Supervisors would take Pete’s words seriously and realize that investing in the Tulare County workforce is indeed putting the needs of their constituents first. Unfortunately, the Board, over the length of Mr. Vander Poel’s term in office and those prior, have a pattern of executive compensation which translates into ongoing raises for themselves, their executive management, and their current County Administrative Officer, Jean Rousseau (now receiving over $200,000 a year in salary and benefits) in a county where the poverty rate is over 25%. Salary and compensation packages for Tulare County Board members are well over $100,000 per year.

Visalia City Council members and Visalia Unified School Board members get about 1/10 the amounts of the Tulare County Board members in salary compensation.

Are Pete Vander Poel and the other four members of our Board really putting the needs of Tulare County first, or are they putting their own needs first? Our Supervisors appear to have lost touch with the needs of this community. It seems they are so awash in their own perks they can’t see through the forest any longer. Let them spend a day out in the kitchen at county jail or observe the crisis worker or emergency response social worker placing kids in foster care in the middle of the night.

We need our Board of Supervisors and County Administrative Officer to support us, value us as a work force that delivers services to the thousands of citizens of this county on a daily basis. “We The People” value this community.

We do not feel our Supervisors or Tulare County Administration are often about placing a value on their own workforce, including many hard-working employees, their neighbors, who are registered voters. Putting community first does NOT mean rewarding management while leaving front-line workers behind.

Many of you remember the Hands Across America event in 1986. We attempted to form a human chain across the entire 48 continental states to help raise money for the poor. The song that was written for Hands Across America had a few words that went as follows, “Divided we fall, united we stand.” We have to stay united today in order to move our community forward.

No, Tulare County is not Wichita–neither is it Mayberry RFD. But in my 40 years of living in California, it is the closest I have come to when it comes to the people, environment, schools, including music and sports programs and places of worship.

Pete Vander Poel was right when he said, “The individuals that we elect to government offices to represent us should be in it to represent interests of their constituents and not their own.” However, our Tulare County Board of Supervisors need to understand that putting community first should be defined as placing value on all of the workers of this county not just themselves, executive management, and the county administrative officer. This would go a long way in assuring that Tulare County could continue to be a wonderful community for decades to come only if………………….
Kermit Wullschleger works for the Tulare County Adoption Agency and has been a Tulare County employee for almost 25 years.

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  1. We, the Union are working people standing together. When working people stand together to bargain for fair wages and decent benefits, California’s communities get stronger. It’s time to restore some balance between management and working people, starting with making sure workers have a voice and a seat at the table.
    Jo Ann Juarez-Salazar, SEIU 521 Chief Negotiator

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