Carlton Jones says being Tulare’s first Black mayor isn’t important to him as it will be to that city’s future Black mayors.
“When you want to be something, if you can see that it’s doable, then you’ll understand why it’s important to be the first,” Jones said as he awaited his swearing-in. “What’s more important than being the first is the fifth and the 19th and the 30th, then you can forget about that first one.”
As he addressed the assembled crowd, Jones reiterated why setting an example will be important to those who may follow him. To make his point, Jones described his son’s curiosity about how the blind dream without imagery, saying only those who have been shown by example can truly see what they want. Jones recalled his own dream of being a firefighter, one that only took on direction and finally became reality because of the trailblazing done by others.
“I wanted to be a firefighter from the time I could walk, but because I never saw it, I couldn’t have that dream,” Jones said. “There’s a man I went to church with, and I remember everyone saying, ‘Willard’s a firefighter,’ and then I was able to dream about it, because it was possible.”
The firefighter who set that example for Jones is Willard Epps. Epps now serves as chief of the Tulare Fire Department, and he was on hand as the city’s new mayor was seated.
“You probably will not hear much from me throughout your years on the Council,” Epps said. “But, I want to let you know the success of Tulare is in your hands, and I ask that you follow your lead and do what’s best for Tulare, and we will all be grateful.”
New to the Council
Epps was speaking not only to Jones, but to the rest of the council as well, including two incoming freshman members. Sworn-in following the November election were Jose Sigala, representing District 1, and Greg Nunley, who takes over from long-time member Craig Vejvoda.
Sigala is the first Hispanic elected directly to the Council, but he did not mention the distinction as he addressed the crowd Tuesday night.
“I’m truly humbled by the support I received,” he said. “I truly appreciate the fact that you put up with me as I knocked on your doors, and kept knocking and kept knocking, and talking to you about my vision and my leadership.”
Sigala, as did the others elected and re-elected in November, thanked his family, friends and supporters.
He said his time on the Council will be spent focusing on community safety, economic development and creating jobs.
“I’m very, very eager to get started,” Sigala said.
Nunley was more terse.
“I really look forward to working with the staff to help the city grow and make it a better place … for everyone in the city to live,” he said after thanking his wife and family.
To take his place on the Council, Nunley beat out one-time mayor Craig Vejvoda by the slimmest of margins. The final count had Nunley leading by just 16 votes, prompting Vejvoda and his supporters to consider a recount.
“I’m going to meet with my team, my campaign team, Thursday, so I’m in the process of gathering information, we’re going to have a robust discussion and reach a decision,” he said.
He has since opted not to seek a recount, a process that would have required an $8,000 payment to begin, as well as the hiring of a qualified person to oversee it. The decision comes despite what Vejvoda called a troublesome election locally.
“There were so many things that weren’t good about how this election was run in Tulare County,” he said. “There are a lot of people who wanted me to do a recount.”
He cited long wait times at the polls, as well as the unavailability of English ballots, but decided he would not challlenge the official count.
“At the end of the day, I just thought maybe God’s telling me something,” Vejvoda said. “It’s time to move on.”
As he spoke Tuesday night, Vejvoda seemed prepared to leave.
“If this is the last time I get to address you from this dais, I leave with a good feeling of knowing how I’ve spent the last 12 years and look forward to finding new ways I can serve this community I dearly love,” he said. “Together, let’s continue working toward making Tulare the most desirable community in which to live, learn, play, work, worship and prosper.”
Council member Shea Gowin, who lost her seat to Sigala, also gave a few parting remarks, including thanking staff at City Hall for its dedication. She also made it clear she will still be leading now from the outside.
“I was involved and coming to meetings before I sat on Council, and I’ll be involved and coming to meetings after I’m off Council,” Gowin said. “I’ll be paying attention, and I hope everyone else will be as well.”
Smoother Sailing Ahead
The newly formed Council’s night went smoothly, as it voted 5-0 on the few matters before it, including Jones’ election as mayor. This has not always been the case in the past, but the Council’s only female member was hopeful it was a sign of things to come.
“I’m looking forward to working with these four [pause] males,” she said, eliciting laughter from the audience. “Together, we can make a big difference. I think the important thing is we keep Tulare first and learn to meet each other halfway, and always, always have the interest of our city firsthand.”
Another thing Tulare voters have in their future is finding a replacement for David Macedo.
During his remarks to the crowd, he made it clear this will be his last term of office.
“I’ve got two more years, then it will be 20 years and it’s time to go,” Macedo said. “I’m 5-0 in elections, and, gosh, I don’t know, I think I’ll retire undefeated.”