100 Issues: Voice’s Top 20

For those who might not keep track, this issue represents the Voice’s 100th since returning to grace newspaper stands across Tulare and Kings counties.

Starting first as a monthly in June of 2013, and stepping up the pace to twice-monthly in September 2013, this year also marks the resuscitated Voice’s four year anniversary.

Compiled from statistics on our website, here are the top 20 stories sorted by views since we’ve started.

For a paper based in Visalia, covering all of Tulare and Kings Counties, it’s surprising how much space stories about Tulare take up — 14 of 20 stories, including those relating to the hospital.

In Catherine Doe’s wrap-up of 2015, she had this to say about the trend of Tulare stories being our most popular:

“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.”

For reference: the 2015 list only included two out of 10 relating to Tulare.

I won’t go so far as to completely agree with her points about the Times-Delta’s lack of coverage. They’re staffed by good people who do great work, and there are certainly stories we’ve missed or could have covered better.

With that said, it was one part humorous and two parts depressing to find out from Pete Wevurski, the paper’s executive editor, at a 210 Connect forum in January that the Voice might have had more writers than the seemingly well-funded, hometown incumbent paper at the time.

Wevurski, a Salinas resident, was later laid off by Gannett, an international publishing behemoth which owns the Times-Delta. The paper still has day-to-day editors, but they now report to a “regional editor” based in Redding.

Which is the long way of saying: it sure looks like there’s a lot of pent-up demand in Tulare for more in-depth coverage of their community. We’ve definitely only scratched the surface.

  1. Tulare Hospital Board Discharges Entire Medical Staff
  2. Tulare Man Claims PD Brutality
  3. Sources Explain Tulare Chief Breckinridge’s Absence
  4. Board’s Opponents Strike at Tulare Hospital District During Meeting
  5. Tulare Hospital Board Meeting Erupts in Controversy Over $800,000 Loan
  6. Wrongful Termination Suit Filed Against Woodlake Officials
  7. Tulare County Supervisors Vote to Ban Marijuana
  8. UPDATED: Paychecks Bounce at Tulare Local Healthcare District
  9. Black History Committee Plans Harlem Renaissance Celebration
  10. Tulare Hospital District’s Meeting Turns Solemn to Raucous
  11. Former Long-Time Grace Homes Employee Sues the Ministry
  12. Tulare Politics Get Fishy as Hospital Recall Nears
  13. Bob and Brenda Burke: Visalia’s Coolest Teachers
  14. Attorney Cries Foul at Tulare Hospital’s Actions
  15. Deal Gives HCCA Right to Buy Tulare Regional Medical Center
  16. Visalia’s Fourth of July Fireworks Show Cancelled
  17. Tulare Regional Medical Center: The Story of a Hospital’s Turnaround
  18. Local Dairymen Take Part in California Milk Rose Parade Float
  19. TLHCD’s Wilbourn Resigns, Meeting Cancelled – Then Held in Evolutions Lobby
  20. HCCA to TRMC Board Majority: Cease. Desist. Prepare for Legal Action.

“Tulare Hospital Board Discharges Entire Medical Staff”

The top-rated story was one that led us down the rabbit hole covering the Tulare Local Healthcare District. Written by Dave Adalian in March of 2016, the story started the Voice’s process of peeling away at the infinitely-increasing number of layers surrounding the troubled healthcare district.

The story was published online after the Voice’s print edition was sent to press.

Hospital officials and the district used a well-paid Los Angeles lawyer to threaten us after the story went online: retract the story, or we’ll see you in court.

There were errors in the article, and the paper — with the article in it — had already been sent to press. We needed to retract the story, they said, or we’d face damages that “would be measured by the hour.”

Some of the issues the hospital mentioned were legitimate: the article’s initial headline was that the board had fired the hospital’s entire medical staff. They’d instead chosen to “disassociate” from the Tulare Regional Medical Center Medical Staff, and the doctors practicing at the hospital essentially became represented by a new medical staff, the Tulare Regional Medical Center Professional Medical Staff, with new leadership.

Others were matters of semantics, and others still could be considered downright false: the attorney claimed Sherrie Bell never stated Dr. Anil Patel had threatened her life. She later went on to make that exact claim in a sworn December 2016 deposition.

The prospect of retracting the article also meant bringing 15,000 copies of a freshly-printed newspaper to their eventual fate of fish wrapping and bird cage liner a lot quicker, too.

After all, the Voice may be rich in reporters, but it doesn’t exactly have high-powered Los Angeles attorneys under its belt. It’s likely that our initial reaction was what they wanted: a mix of fear and uncertainty.

Joseph Oldenbourg, the Voice’s publisher, called me while I was at a community college journalism convention and asked me to take down the story from our website while we figured out what to do. Distribution of the papers was halted while Joseph and Catherine sought legal advice.

It seems clear from this story’s position that it’s obvious how the story eventually ended: Joseph and Catherine later found an attorney who told us, in no uncertain terms, to pull the trigger and keep going, offering to take the case if the hospital’s officials made good on their threats. Of course, the errors were corrected online immediately, and in our next print issue.

Beginning a trend that’s continued, we made our first source document available for viewing: the letter from Bruce Greene of BakerHostetler, calling the story “perhaps one of the most irresponsible pieces of ‘journalism’ that we have ever seen in a long time.”

He did state we could publish it — next to a full retraction of the story. We put it next to the correction instead, and we’ve published a lot more, too. Just look at the list.

“Sources Explain Tulare Chief Breckinridge’s Absence”

In January of 2016, Catherine Doe recapped her story on former Tulare Police Chief Jerry Breckinridge’s alleged DUI, following an extended period where he’d essentially vanished from the city. She does it much more justice than I can.

“After the Memorial Day Holiday, Tulare Police Chief Jerry Breckinridge went missing. The Tulare taxpayers, 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, taxpayer 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, then 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.”

In her October 15, 2015 Political Fix column, she goes more in depth:

“Mr. Breckinridge’s resignation isn’t the end of his career. It is just the beginning – depending on him. If Mr. Breckinridge comes out the other end of this difficult time in his life recovered and able, he could be the head of a police force much larger than Tulare’s.”

She was right, sort of: Breckinridge did indeed fall into a new position in March of 2016, though it was in the City of Arvin.

Local media there noted his absence from Tulare, the Voice’s story, and other prior reports.

“The reason for my resignation is a personal matter and I encourage people not to believe everything they read,” he told Jose Gaspar of the Bakersfield Californian.

And, asked if he was stopped for a DUI:

“Again, that’s a personal issue. The reasons behind my resignation I want to leave it a personal issue,” he told the Californian.

“Wrongful Termination Suit Filed Against Woodlake Officials”

A lawsuit filed by Daniel Garibay still snakes through the court system. The original story, written by Catherine Doe, detailed Garibay’s allegations that he was fired from the Woodlake Police Department in retaliation for a relationship with the wife of a friend of Ramon Lara, Woodlake’s city manager.

He also claims the city violated his civil rights in conducting an allegedly intrusive investigation of any relationship he may have had with the woman.

After Judge Bret Hillman allowed the case to go forward, the attorneys for the 7,600-resident city took the case up the food chain, asking the California Court of Appeals to review the ruling. They upheld it. Then they asked the California Supreme Court to review the ruling — which, again, upheld it. Then Woodlake officials tried to take it to the US Supreme Court.

The Supremes, it seemed, weren’t interested. They kicked it back to Tulare County, where the trial date has been set for December 11, 2017.

“Former Long-Time Grace Homes Employee Sues the Ministry”

For decades, Grace Homes was a well-respected icon of Visalia, dedicated to residential care, education and rehabilitation of troubled adolescent girls, from 12 to 18 years of age.

Established in 1987, the facility was the only place in the state that was licensed and had the ability to deal with the emotional needs of sex-trafficked pregnant girls and other victims of sexual abuse.

The Grace Homes formally closed its doors in the summer of 2016. Problems escalated when it was discovered that founder, Gale Kuns had not obtained the proper permits to operate the facility and the agency fell into debt.

According to former board member, Phil Mohr, all assets were sold off and the agency closed without owing money.

During the last year that Grace Homes was struggling to survive, the board hired Phil Luna to take over as CEO. Luna allegedly threatened and harassed employee Sherrie Kuns-Fehlman, and she sued for sexual harassment, physical assault and creating a hostile work environment. Gale and Glenda Kuns, founders of Grace Homes, also sued for wrongful termination.

The case was settled in April of this year. Their lawyers Maggie Melo and John Sarsfield could not disclose the terms of the settlement but said their clients were very satisfied with the result.

“Bob and Brenda Burke: Visalia’s Coolest Teachers”

The fact that a profile of two Visalia teachers is here may come as a surprise to some who’ve never been to Mt. Whitney High School.

As a former Whitney student and a former student of Brenda Burke, I’m certainly not surprised.

The article is also one of our top-shared pieces on Facebook, and a number of their former students commented on their positive experiences with the Burkes.

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