Hanford residents in District D will decide on January 23 whether or not they want to replace Council Member Francisco Ramirez with a fresh face.
Elected as young, energetic force in 2014, Ramirez beat out incumbent Lou Martinez by a commanding 15 points. Now Martinez is vying to replace Ramirez, who is now seen by his detractors as an ineffective council member.
If the recall is successful the residents have four candidates from which to choose. Two candidates, Shelly Barker and Paula Massey were profiled in the Valley Voice in the November 2 issue.
Since that time, two more candidates have filed papers, former Hanford Mayor Lou Martinez and business woman Diane Sharp.
Sharp – I Want a More Transparent Government
Sharp has been endorsed by both the Kings County Republican Party and the Kings County Libertarian Party (KCLP.) The KCLP looks for candidates who believe in small, fiscally responsible government, will put the historic buildings to good use, liven up downtown, and bring in businesses without using local taxes for “corporate welfare or handouts.”
After interviewing the four candidates the KCLP “enthusiastically endorsed” Sharp.
Both party endorsers chose someone with proven business chops.
Sharp stated in her candidate profile, “I have built budgets, am able to understand complex public budgets and am not afraid to ask probing questions as necessary. The budget tells the story in numbers of the actions, goals, culture and aspirations of any entity.
Smarts aren’t everything, but they come in handy in jobs that require extensive reading and comprehension. To hold City management accountable, City Council members need to know their stuff.”
Sharp believes in cutting red tape for those who want to start businesses and special zoning for the downtown. So she was disappointed when Ramirez voted to allow movie theaters outside the downtown retail zone.
“I think downtown is the front door to our community and has special challenges but also special opportunities – so it’s OK to have different rules for downtown,” said Sharp.
As far as having a conflict of interest similar to Council Member Sue Sorenson’s, Sharp acknowledges that she has a partial ownership in downtown properties and in District D.
“I’ve read the conflict of interest rules and am very aware of them. My goal is to follow the law.”
Sharp said that she is a big transparency hawk and that was a huge motivating factor for her jumping in the race. She revealed that Hanford is currently being sued by Transparent California for not supplying salary data to the organization. She said that she believes a settlement is in the works but that in the meantime the city is racking up legal bills.
She said, “We are basically spending taxpayers’ money to keep information away from the taxpayers.”
According to Transparent California’s website it is “dedicated to providing accurate, comprehensive and easily searchable information on the compensation of public employees in California.”
“Sunshine is one of the best things you can bring to government,” said Sharp.
Sharp did not work on the recall campaign but agrees with the effort. Neither Martinez nor Sharp believes that Ramirez has been an effective council member.
Lou Martinez – I Believe the City has Left Us out of the Process
Martinez says it’s upsetting to know that the city council doesn’t ask its citizens when it comes to important decisions. Such examples he gave were the council’s decision to tear down Hanford’s iconic water towers and Hanford’s art deco fire station.
“I live two blocks away from the water towers,” he said. “Don’t you think I should have been informed earlier?”
While campaigning Martinez walked his district. He found the consensus to be that the towers should not be torn down but rather preserved and painted with one saying “Hanford” on it like other cities have done.
Back in March of 2017 the city council voted to designate the property on which the towers are located as surplus. The property has since been auctioned off and the buyers will be demolishing the towers as a condition of the sale.
The city council approved of the sale December 19, but Martinez says that the residents of District D did not receive adequate notice nor were they consulted.
Sharp agrees with Martinez about the council’s lack of listening to its constituents stating:
“Putting the firehouse demolition contract on the December 19 City Council consent calendar indicates the City doesn’t want to take into consideration the strong feelings many in Hanford have about our public historic buildings. The City needs to be more mindful and responsive to its citizens.”
In regards to the downtown, Martinez would like to see it to return to how it used to be, energetic and lively. He said that the council has had some discussion with the business district and community “but that is all it has been, is talk.”
“There’s a lot of talking and studies that don’t go anywhere,” he said.
Martinez says the reason he is running for city council is that he feels that the city government does not respond to the community or respect what it wants.
“There are five council members but 55 thousand other residents who have opinions too,” Martinez said.
Martinez did not initiate the recall effort but he did file the Petition for Recall at city hall. When asked why he thinks he lost to Ramirez in 2014 he said he wasn’t very enthusiastic about running that year and did not do any campaigning.
Currently, Martinez feels that “any option is better than what we have now.”
Martinez supports the recall because he feels Ramirez “takes credit for things he has nothing to do with.”
“He is self-promoting. When he does show up for events it is to promote himself. He isn’t there for the community,” said Martinez.
Why is the City Council Still Talking about Hidden Valley Park?
There is one issue about which all candidates agree.
All four candidates are passionate about Hanford not selling the undeveloped half of Hidden Valley Park.
“I don’t know who they are taking their direction from, but it’s frustrating that they are not listening to Hanford’s citizens,” said Martinez. He said the powers that be seem to have their own ideas about what to do “with a piece of property that was set aside as park space.”
Sharp said that it appears from the data that Hanford doesn’t have enough park space for its population. She believes that parks are important to a healthy community and that it is a city’s financial priority to spend money on parks.
“2700 people signed a petition within just a few weeks in support of Hidden Valley Park. That’s very persuasive to me,” said Sharp. “So why are we still talking about Hidden Valley Park?”
Paula Massey said that she would love to see something like Fresno’s Woodward Park in Hanford.
“Woodward is a popular city asset with a bird sanctuary and Japanese Garden that attracts visitors from all over the Valley,” she said.
Barker agrees, saying that it seems that the people of Hanford have clearly “spoken with an obvious passion for preservation.”
“I would like to see the Hidden Valley Park put on the upcoming November [2018 general election] ballot. Honestly, in my opinion, a lot more needs to be left up to the citizens who pay taxes here.”
“Who is making the decisions about Hanford,” asked Martinez. “People who leave town at 5:00? It shouldn’t be that way.”
Basis for Recall
Grounds to initiate a recall against Ramirez were his alleged violations of campaign finance and a Kings County Grand Jury report that found irregularities in Ramirez’ campaign material.
Ramirez acknowledged that the grand jury report was true and apologized for the unintentional false information in his campaign materials.
The Fair Political Practices Commission’s (FPPC) investigation has not yet been concluded, even though the case has been open for almost two and a half years. According to Jay Wierenga, FPPC Communications Director, most cases are concluded within 180 days but he would not disclose why Ramirez’ investigation was taking so long.
Ramirez’ official response to the recall when filed in May of 2017 was, “There are some individuals that don’t even live in our district that want me out of office because I’m not a part of the good old boys club. When you elected me I promised to change things and not be part of the status quo.”
With the recall days away Ramirez said, “I’m ready to stay or go. They are spending so much money to recall me. At the end of the day I made a lot of progress for our community but if it’s going to stay corrupted – I am out.”
Where and When to Vote
Two polling places will be available to the residents of District D, the First Presbyterian Church, 340 N. Irwin Street and the Latin American Assembly of God, 700 S. Harris Street. Polls will be open from 8 – 8 on Tuesday January 23.
Absentee ballots were mailed out January 2. For those who want to vote now, you can go to the Kings County Elections Department, building 7, 1400 W. Lacey Blvd. Monday – Friday between 8am – 5pm.