Former Tulare County Supervisor Phil Cox expressed his frustration with the Visalia City Council a little too bluntly over a hot microphone at the supervisors’ December 20 meeting.
“I was at the [Visalia] City Council meeting last night,” Cox told Supervisor Pete Vander Poel, “and what a bunch of dumb asses.”
The comments were captured in a recording of the meeting.
His comment was in reaction to the city council’s paying for cadets to go through the Visalia Police Academy with no assurances they will stay with the city. He was also in disagreement with the city’s spending Measure N money before receiving it.
All Tulare County Supervisor meetings are recorded. While the microphone system went live at 9am, the meeting didn’t start until 9:02. Cox apparently did not realize that during those two minutes the mics were on when he was speaking with Vander Poel.
Cox lost his supervisorial seat to Amy Shuklian in the June primary, later winning a seat on the Visalia City Council in the November election. He was sworn into office on the afternoon of December 21 in a private ceremony.
Each Visalia City Council member took Cox’ comments with a grain of salt.
Council member Greg Collins said “I’ve been called worse.”
Mayor Warren Gubler said, in jest, that he wasn’t at that meeting, “so Phil must have been talking about the other members.”
Outgoing Council Member Amy Shuklian said, “I’ll be sure that when I’m on the dais I’ll be careful what I say.”
Meanwhile, Cox said that he didn’t remember his exact words but did explain the reasons behind it.
He had just attended the December 19 city council meeting the evening before as a citizen because he had not yet been sworn into office. He listened to Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar’s presentation on the COS Police Academy and said that Salazar did not explain the risks of sponsoring potential candidates in the academy.
During public comment Cox approached the dais and told the council that after the city pays for a cadet to go through the academy that cadet can go work in another city and the city has lost their investment.
“I got no response,” said Cox. “I think they should have been informed.”
Cox told Vander Poel as much during the December 20 supervisors meeting.
“[..] they want to pre-screen them, [they’re] gonna pay them as employees while they’re stiting in class, and then I know at the end of the academy they don’t have to come work for them,” Cox said. “They can just say ‘F U’ and go somewhere else. I said, does your council know that – does council know that, the people making the decision?”
Council member Steve Nelsen explained that the city council was fully aware of the risks and that those discussions had taken place before Cox was elected. “I’m not stupid. I know there is a cost involved,” said Nelsen.
According to Nelsen and Council Member Collins, before paying for someone’s tuition at the academy the police department heavily screens the cadets and picks those who are local and most likely to stay in Visalia. Nelsen said that by sponsoring cadets through the academy they get dibs on the top 10 candidates instead of getting those candidates at the bottom of their class. Both council members said that, statistically speaking, retention is high.
“Jason and his team feel good about the recruits they have chosen to invest money into putting them through the academy. Generally those folks will stay,” said Collins.
Nelsen said it is against California law to force a police recruit to commit to working in a certain town even if you pay for their training. Salazar agreed.
“What Phil wants is for them to sign a contract, and you can’t do that,” Salazar said.
Cox’ experience with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department was that recruits do leave. He said that years ago the Sheriff’s Department was having a difficult time recruiting qualified applicants and decided to pay for some cadets’ training and minimum wage while they worked for the department.
“Some stayed and some didn’t” said Cox. “We paid for them and they went elsewhere.”
Supervisor Vander Poel said that Cox’ comments weren’t aimed at any one individual council member but originated from a different mindset held by the supervisors. One of Cox’ comments on the recording was that Visalia wasn’t going to see a dime of Measure N money until July but was planning on spending the money now on sponsoring some cadets.
“The comment just came from a different mindset of not spending the money before you get it,” said Vander Poel.
Vice Mayor Bob Link said that the entire council understands the risk but the goal is to have the police officers in place by the time Measure N takes effect. Collins said that not a month goes by that Visalia is not recruiting police officers due to retirements, promotions and relocations. Salazar said there have been five academies in the last year and a half where they have sponsored cadets and that “Visalia has had a lot of success with the program.”
Link did not want to comment on what Cox said but did add that “he is going to have to get along with the council. He is one vote out of five people and we need to respect each other.”
Said Gubler, “We’ve all slipped up, made mistakes, and perhaps said things on occasion that we later regret. I’ve known Phil Cox for many years, and he is a good man. I look forward to working with him on the Visalia city council, and he will be a welcome addition.”
To listen to Cox’s comments from the audio, click the “Play” buttons next to the relevant comments.