The Valley Voice Wraps up 2015

Reflecting on 2015’s top stories brought about revelations concerning small towns, the importance of the media and why some people hate Facebook.

Our top three stories of the year came out of Tulare, Woodlake and Hanford, showing the pent up demand for small towns to get better media coverage. Hanford does have its own newspaper, the Hanford Sentinel, and while the reporter who has the same beat as I do is about as cuddly as a cactus, he does cover the town’s biggest issues.

Tulare used to have the Advance Register but it was bought out by the Visalia Times-Delta (VTD), and the VTD has a hard time covering their own city’s big stories. If Tulare had had an independent paper, then Tulare Police Chief Jerry Breckinridge would have never gone “missing” and the Tulare Police Department would have thought twice about covering up his DUI. The VTD hasn’t covered Visalia’s big stories like Walmart’s Super Center and the Nordstrom Fulfillment Center, and shouldn’t pretend to adequately cover Tulare.

The Valley Voice misses important stories also, but we are not Gannett.

The Valley Voice’s most-read story was about police brutality and mirrored what is happening nationally.

Beside terrorists’ attacks, police brutality was the number one issue in the nation for 2015.

Jonathan Smith’s beating by the Tulare Police Department (TPD) was read by more people than the Valley Voice has on-line readers, meaning the story spread beyond our borders.

Top 10 Stories Based on Page Views:

  1. Tulare Man Claims PD Brutality
  2. Sources Explain Tulare Chief Breckinridge’s Absence
  3. Wrongful Termination Suit Filed Against Woodlake Officials
  4. Visalia’s Fourth of July Fireworks Show Cancelled
  5. FPPC Complaint Filed Against Tulare County Sheriff Boudreaux
  6. Who Filled In Mussel Slough?
  7. Disc Golf: Not Your Father’s Frisbee Game
  8. Judge Valeriano Saucedo’s Last Hearing Takes Place in a San Diego Courtroom
  9. Visalia Times-Delta Struggles to Keep Autonomy
  10. Hanford’s Mussel Slough Mystery Persists

Top 10 Stories Based on Facebook Views

  1. Tulare Man Claims PD Brutality
  2. Who Filled in Mussel Slough?
  3. Sources Explain Tulare Chief Breckinridge’s Absence
  4. Public Speaks Out on Condition of Mooney Grove
  5. Visalia City Council Supports Nordstrom
  6. Hanford City Staff Locked up Park
  7. Visalia Times Delta Struggles to Keep
  8. Autonomy
  9. Tulare County Board of Supervisors Responds to Grand Jury Report on Mooney Grove
  10. Breckinridge’s Resignation

Wrongful Termination Suit Filed Against Woodlake Officials – Daniel Garibay

Our article about the TPD also solidified why many people hate Facebook. When readers logged on to our website to read our paper they left, not always well-meaning, but well thought out and rational comments.

Conversely, the comments left on Facebook ranged from plain rude to plain stupid and were made by what seemed to be a group of first graders.

How was it that the Facebook users got their facts so wrong? After some head scratching I realized that while commenters on our webpage actually read the article, Facebook users just looked at the picture, maybe read the blurb, and then graced us with their pearls of wisdom.

The idiocy of some of their comments confirmed that habitual Facebook users have developed their own special kind of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Updates to Valley Voice’s Biggest Stories of 2015

1. Tulare Man Claims Police Department Brutality

On the morning of August 25, Jonathan Smith left his quiet neighborhood to do some errands. Seventeen hours later, after a beating by several Tulare Police Officers, six hours in jail, and a visit to the hospital, he made it back home at 2:30am.

Smith’s lawyers, Melo and Sarsfield have already started the process of filing a civil suit against the Tulare Police Department. Four months after the incident, Smith and his lawyers do not know the names of the police officers involved in the beating. Nor have Smith’s two cell phones been returned. Smith recorded the incident on his cell phones and they were confiscated at the scene. Neither the Tulare Police Department nor the DA can watch the videos on his phones without a search warrant, which has not been issued.

Tulare County District Attorney has initiated a criminal case against Smith. After three months of deliberating, the DA decided to file charges against Smith for “Resist, Obstruct, Delay of Peace Officer or EMT.”

Smith’s lawyers, Melo and Sarsfield have stated that you can’t criminally charge someone for resisting arrest if they are not being arrested for anything. Smith has been ordered to appear at the Tulare County Superior Court at 8:30am for arraignment on January 7.

2. Who Filled in Mussel Slough?

Stories about Hanford get a lot of hits, but it was still surprising the interest generated by an old neglected and abused waterway. When I asked a Hanford resident why an esoteric issue like Mussel Slough would be so popular with Valley Voice readers I was told that the Hanford Sentinel wouldn’t do articles like that, meaning controversial. It’s also because I doubt Hanford Sentinel reporters are paid for research and investigation time, of which this subject took a lot. Most people don’t even know what a slough is, let alone want to read about it. They do in Hanford though, and the slough was a mainstay in the lives of the old folks in that town and they don’t want to see it disappear.

At issue is when the residents are not looking another segment of Mussel Slough surreptitiously disappears. At a Hanford Planning Commission meeting one of the commissioners actually referred to the slough as that old dry canal. That old dry canal is the lifeblood of Hanford as the city’s only source of water comes from its underground aquifer. Mussel Slough is a living sponge that absorbs and cleans the water that eventually reaches Hanford’s water supply.

As for the canal that prominently passes through town? That water belongs to Mr. Boswell–so hands off, Hanford.

3. Sources Explain Tulare Chief Breckinridge’s Absence

After the Memorial Day Holiday, Tulare Police Chief Jerry Breckinridge went missing. The Tulare tax payers, who were paying more than $10,000 a month for their absent police chief, were none too happy with City of Tulare Manager Don Dorman’s cavalier attitude. Dorman was refusing to give an explanation, saying this was a personnel issue, tax payer be damned.

On September 29 the Valley Voice revealed in an article that Breckinridge’s disappearance was related to an unreported DUI and a domestic abuse case from 2014. The rumor was that Dorman went over to Breckinridge’s house the day after his DUI incident and told him to leave town and go into rehab.

Perhaps as a result of the Valley Voice’s story, Breckinridge resigned five days later, on October 6. His resignation came two hours before the Tulare City Council meeting. Strangely, nothing was mentioned at the meeting; two city council members were absent, and no media was present except for the Valley Voice. In closed session Dorman and the city council allowed Breckinridge to choose his own resignation day of November 13. It was speculated that Breckinridge picked the date to maximize his retirement package.

In a comment on the Valley Voice’s website, Vice-Mayor Carlton Jones said that, for his part, he believes that some or all of the allegations may be true, posting that, “As a citizen I think Jerry mad[e] a huge mistake and it’s being swept under the rug I think other officers know the truth.”

Jones continued in another post, “This act started with one person, Jerry. The first mistake is his. The next mistake is what happened when he was confronted by another officer. No I don’t know what happened. I have no way of finding out. You should all ask Jerry. I will do the same.”

The citizens would like to follow Jones’ advice and “ask Jerry” but he is still missing.

4. Public Speaks Out on Condition of Mooney Grove

Even with the media coverage, and citizens speaking out during public comment at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (TCBOS), park goers were never given an adequate reason for the deteriorating condition of Mooney Grove. While the Plaza Park Pond hosts a Winter Trout Derby on January 9 for the local kids, Mooney Grove’s pond languishes in green goo. The TCBOS finally did respond to the outrage by forming the Parks Advisory Committee. The commission oversees all of Tulare County parks but Mooney Grove consumes most of their time.

After sitting through three meetings of two hours each, it was clear that the committee members were making decisions that any competent park manager should have already made. Through no fault of their own, the entire PAC process has been a huge waste of time. The TCBOS needs to show leadership in regards to Mooney Grove and Tulare County Parks and Recreation Manager Neil Pilegard, needs to be told to do his job. If that were happening the Park Advisory Committee would not be necessary.

5. Visalia City Council Supports Nordstrom

The biggest story in the Central Valley right now is the race between Visalia and Fresno to land Nordstrom’s West Coast Distribution Center. It would bring 1,875 jobs to the region and establish the chosen city’s industrial park as the place to be for big retail. An incentive package was discussed during the December 15 Visalia City Council meeting, when they matched Fresno’s package dollar for dollar. A decision is expected from Nordstrom later this month. An update to our Facebook article posted mid-December can be found in this issue.

10. Food Freedom Initiative Filed with City

The fight over allowing chickens and miniature goats inside Visalia city limits was the most entertaining story in 2015. Supporters on both sides of the issue have very valid concerns but their passion bordered on crazy.

As I wrote in a Political Fix column, “Here in our office, for expediency’s sake, we refer to each side as pro-goaters or anti-goaters, and both have made some pretty ridiculous statements. An anti-goater claimed that the Urban Farmers for Food Freedom (UFFF) is ‘holding Visalia hostage’ over the initiative process. A pro-goater said in referring to a city council public hearing on chickens, ‘why open up this microphone to the people if you are dictators in your hearts?’”

The Urban Farmers Food Freedom initiative to legalize miniature goats and chickens has been collecting signatures since late summer. Though the Valley Voice has been enjoying their farm fresh eggs provided by Associate Editor Nancy Vigran , the Valley Voice does not endorse either side of the initiative.

According to Gingi Freeman, director of the UFFF, “We are in the process of withdrawing the initiative and submitting for refile in February to make the November ballot. We found formatting errors in our petition and if we submit the current petition, the city could fight us on it being valid. While we would most likely win the case, according to our lawyers, it would be a lot less time and money if we just refile.”

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