Mayor Ramona Villarreal-Padilla has quit the Lindsay City Council.
The announcement, which took her fellow council members flat-footed, came abruptly at the end of the October 11 meeting. After offering apologies for the coming surprise, Padilla dropped her bombshell.
“Today will be my last day as mayor for the city of Lindsay,” she said. “I have a project that has come and fallen into my lap. It requires my full attention in order for me to accomplish this.”
Two years remain on Padilla’s term.
“My term is over in November,” she mistakenly said, “but I’m done today.”
She thanked friends and supporters, expressing her satisfaction over how the city is now being run.
“I’ve been here six years, and there’s been really hard times, and there’s been really good times,” Padilla said, “and I really wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.”
The ‘Nightmare’ Continues
Padilla did not tell her shocked listeners what the project is. Her resignation follows that of fellow council member Steven Mecum, who quit his position via an email in July.
Mecum and Padilla, along with Mayor Pro Tem Rosaena Sanchez, were said in court documents to have encouraged a former city police officer to file wrongful termination charges to discredit Lindsay’s former city manager. Sanchez, whose term expires this year, is not seeking reelection.
The incidents surrounding the officer’s lawsuit were the subject of a Tulare Grand Jury Report Nightmare in Lindsay. The report also called the Council on the carpet for a lack of transparency. City spending was also at issue.
These aren’t the only comings and goings at Lindsay City Hall. Brian Watson was appointed to fill the gap left by Mecum in August. Watson will start his first full term in November, as will another new face, that of Laura Soria Cortes. Councilwoman Pam Kimball will also serve another term. The trio ran unopposed for the three available seats.
City Hall Turnover
Staff at City Hall has also been churning. The Council hired Bill Zigler as its city manager earlier this year. He began as interim in July of 2015, a move forced by his predecessor’s departure during the events detailed by the Grand Jury investigation. Soon after that, the city’s longtime finance director, Tamera Larkin, who had piloted the city through an assorted series of budget overruns and fiduciary crises, retired.
Now her replacement is gone, and he may have been fired.
The departure of Justin Poore, who was hired as finance director this spring, came to light the same day the mayor resigned. While Padilla caught onlookers unaware when she went, news of Poore’s parting from City Hall may have been more expected.
“That was coming on. I don’t know a whole lot about that, and it was on purpose. I think he was let go,” said Councilwoman Kimball. “There were some issues. I think that he was qualified for the job. I can’t really be more specific than that.”
While she was aware of issues regarding Poore’s employment, Kimball said she kept her distance so Zigler could do his job.
Cleaner Future for Lindsay
Kimball is hopeful the new Council will be able to work in the city’s best interest. She expects they’ll cooperate, which was not always possible given personality conflicts prior to the recent departures.
“I think we’re going to be able to get along really well,” she said. “I think we’re going to be a positive council that sees good things happen in the community. We may not always be on the same page about everything, but we’ll be on the same page about what’s good for the community.”
The city already has some needed good news. Kimball said Self Help Enterprises will receive a $5.5 million state grant for its Lindsay Village, a proposed 49-unit housing project. The grant helps fund air-pollution reduction measures, including solar power and gray-water recycling. Dinuba will receive a similar grant.
One of the first things the new council will have to decide is who will replace Padilla. They should already have a list of candidates, along with the research into their qualifications following their search for Mecum’s replacement. That move could come as soon as their October 25 meeting.
The Council could also pick the city’s new mayor that night. The position is ceremonial.
Eventually, it will have to hire someone else to oversee finances. While there were no outward signs of discontent at City Hall, there have long been many indications the city’s finances were in trouble. All, however, appears to be going well there, at least until the latest snags. Poore was hired to minimize city spending, and all seemed satisfactory until the parting of the ways.
“We’re focusing on making cuts and going through each item, line-item by line-item,” he told the Council in March. “I’ve been working with every director that we have, reviewing every account, working through and kicking rocks over.”
Zigler, who is currently on vacation, praised Poore’s work at the time.
“My anticipation is these guys are going to have this thing drilled down,” he said. “It’s going to make sense.”
Padilla, too, seems happy with how Lindsay is conducting its business as she departs.
“I feel really comfortable with the way is the city is run now,” she said. “We have some very dedicated staff.”