Tulare’s public records responses earn city a lawsuit

Many Tulareans are interested in the investigation of their police chief, Wes Hensley, and command officers Cpt. Fred Ynclan, and Lt. Jerod Boatman.

All three remain on paid administrative leave, Hensley since September 27, 2017; Ynclan and Boatman since November 7, 2017.

Ben Brubaker, a Tulare resident, submitted a Public Records Act request for information regarding the investigation; a representative of the city attorney’s office replied that the city would not comply with the request. As a result, Brubaker is taking the city to court.

In a suit filed with the Tulare County Superior Court on January 31, Brubaker, through his attorney, Michael Lampe, requests the following judgements:

  1. A declaration that the City has not complied with the January 16, 2018, Public Records Act request, and that the requested documents should be produced forthwith.
  2. That Brubaker be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees in this action under the provisions of Government Code 6259(d) and Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5.
  3. That Brubaker be awarded his costs of suit incurred herein; and
  4. That Brubaker be awarded such other relief as the court may consider proper.

A case management conference has been set for Tuesday, June 12.

City officials have told reporters that an investigator has been hired to look into matters regarding the police personnel – but that’s about all they’ll say.

Attorney’s response to public information requests

A response letter to Brubaker, signed by Sarah Tobais — an attorney with Goyette and Associates, Inc., the city’s contracted law firm — states:

“Making information and records public about an on-going, confidential personnel investigation would interfere with any agency’s ability to conduct an effective investigation.  This risk is greatly amplified in the situation at hand by the involvement of the media in this matter, and by the possibility of any prematurely released information impacting potential witnesses and impacting the investigator’s ability to conduct the investigation.  The public does possess an interest in transparency and in evaluating the City’s performance of its duties, such as conducting a personnel investigation.  Making information and records public about an on-going, confidential personnel investigation would interfere with any agency’s ability to conduct an effective investigation.  This risk is greatly amplified in the situation at hand by the involvement of the media in this matter, and by the possibility of any prematurely released information impacting potential witnesses and impacting the investigator’s ability to conduct the investigation.  The public does possess an interest in transparency and in evaluating the City’s performance of its duties, such as conducting a personnel investigation.  However, learning information such as the name of the investigator before the investigation is completed does not serve the public interest in determining whether the City has properly performed its duties, as its duties have not yet been completed.”

Clearly, Brubaker is not satisfied with the response.

“As a citizen, I have rights to know how our city is run,” he said in an interview with the Voice. “It’s our business.

“They are refusing it [the public information request], so I am challenging it.”

Brubaker isn’t the only one receiving that response.

The Valley Voice’s Catherine Doe placed a very similar request – she got the same answer as Brubaker.

While the California Public Records Act requires an agency to offer any “reasonably segregable portion of a record” for copying or viewing, Tulare officials stated that revealing the name of the investigator was an issue. So, the Voice made a subsequent request for a copy of the contract with the name redacted.

The same response was given, without any reference to the investigator’s name being an impediment.

Apparently the name of the investigator is not the only issue the city attorneys do not want to reveal. Brubaker and the Voice are not the only ones looking for answers.

 

Council member wants answers, too

At the January 16 Tulare city council meeting, following some public comments on the situation, Councilman Jose Sigala tried to fish out some answers.

“And the final thing I’d like to see, is if we could have, in closed session, a briefing on the status of the chief of police’s leave,” he said during council member comments. ”I know that the city attorney has told us, we as a council are not allowed to legally be involved in that process, which I respect. But, I do believe as a council, we can be briefed on the cost of the investigation and the timeline. So, I would like to see if we could have that in closed session.

“I’m not asking about the particulars of why the chief is on leave, but I do think that we, as a council, do have to deal with city funding and get an opportunity as to what the timeline is. I read about it in the paper, but I’d like to get a briefing from the city manager and the city attorney on the cost of the investigation and the timeline.”

A discussion ensued between Sigala and Councilman Greg Nunley, in which Nunley said, “Let’s just talk about it right now – if there’s investigations happening, how much will it cost? Council, can we know any more than this?”

Vice Mayor Maritsa Castellanoz stated she felt that without it being properly agendized, council could not discuss the issue.

Sigala responded, “So, what would be an appropriate avenue as a council member, as duly elected by the public who I have sworn an oath to protect, and do what I can to protect the treasury of the city. Maybe they don’t want to know. But I would like to know what the cost is and the timeline. So, if the closed session is not the appropriate avenue, would the city attorney to be willing to say what is the appropriate avenue to find out, as a council member?

Tobias did not respond.

Nunley did, “I would like the public to know, everyone in this room and everyone who reads the newspaper, I’d like the public to know that we can only know certain things and we can only get an update on certain things.”

After a brief discussion on another topic, Sigala brought the conversation back to the investigation.

“And then the final thing would be just a briefing, whether it’s closed session or not, on the cost and the timeline of the investigation,” he said.

Mayor Carlton Jones responded , “I’ll say this and let me say it to everyone here – when you talk about your duties as a council member, that’s also one of your duties as a council member, is your involvement in personnel matters. So, don’t forget that one.”

“I’m not being involved in personnel matters, it is very specific of the cost,” Sigala said .

Jones responded, “That’s a personnel matter.”

“Well, that’s why I need a city attorney to tell me,” Sigala said.

Again, Tobias did not respond, the mayor did.

“The best thing to do, as council members – you leave that process alone,” he said.

Further discussion continued and Sigala said, “I don’t want to know what the chief did. I don’t want to know this and that, all I want to know – is it going to cost the city a specific amount of money and how much longer this is going to take. It’s very specific, so if we’re not going to support this, I would like to hear from you or from the city attorney, something in writing, telling me – focusing on case law, or focusing on personnel law, or whatever, saying you are prohibiting councilmen from knowing this information.”

Shortly after, Sigala was silenced.

“This is just your 30 minute closing, and we don’t want to have another meeting here,” the mayor said. “That’s enough with that. That’s enough. It’s not going to close session. You’re crossing into a whole bunch of Bill of Rights issues that I would suggest you meet with legal counsel to look into before we go any further. I’m going to move on.”

“Well, it’s not fair that you are the only one who gets briefed on this,” Sigala rebuked. “That’s my point.”

“I don’t get briefed,” Jones responded.

“According to your radio interview, you do know what’s going on and I don’t think it’s fair that you are the only one who knows what’s going on,” Sigala said referring to Jones’ K-TIP weekly radio appearances.

In a February 3 interview, Sigala said he is still waiting to hear from the city attorneys with regard to citing case or personnel law in that the city council, and the public, does not have a right to know the cost and timeframe of the investigation.

“I’m just as curious as the public as to what is going on,” he said. “I do feel there are some questions that we, as council members, have the right to know. But, as of yet, I have not heard back.

“I am not satisfied as to the lack of response regarding the cash and timeline from the city attorney.”

It is not clear, at this point, just what it will take for council or Tulareans to learn how much time the investigation into three top law enforcement officers will take, or how much money Tulare will spend on that investigation. Perhaps the Brubaker court case, some four months away, will be able to shed some light onto it. Meanwhile, Hensley, Ynclan and Boatman remain on paid administrative leave.

12 thoughts on “Tulare’s public records responses earn city a lawsuit

  1. Next thing you know the Mayor will be producing his own memo to the public that clears him of any wrong doing (co-written of course by the City Manager, City Attorney, and his very special favorite cheerleader …the Vice Mayor). Perhaps the individuals mentioned above are the ones who need to be investigated

    • Good one Barbara. This whole thing falls back on Hiz Honor. Wonder where our DA is in all of this?
      Come on Tulare….new War Cry…Impeach Jones!!!

  2. Recall Carlton Jones and Maritsa Castellanoz they have a private agenda and the City Manager and Attorney need to be fired. This is totally uncalled for. Let them all pay for all the lawsuits headed the City’s way. Taxpayers deserve answers.

  3. I found it interesting that during one of Mayor Jones’ chit chats with PK on KTIP in January that she said something to the effect that the person hired for the Hensley case was a retired investigator out of Sacramento. If the city council is kept out of the loop then why does he know who the investigator is and why is he telling PK and not the residents of Tulare.

  4. Perhaps Mr. Sigala can place an item on the agenda to discuss the circumstances under which Council can temporarily or permanently relieve the City Manager of his duties.

  5. Do you ever wonder if the matter involves our mayor? Maybe one matter anyway? I do not in ANY WAY support the police department. Let’s make that clear..

  6. Good Job Ben, It’s sad that it takes lawsuits to get a response. The Mayor shouldn’t be privy to information that the rest of the council isn’t. I guess unless he is personally involved. Hopefully the City will finally respond and give Ben and the rest of us the answers we seek.

  7. Macedo, Sigala, and Nunley could do what’s right and vote to remove Carlton as Mayor and Maritsa as vice mayor as they make a majority, The 3 can also terminate the City Manager as a majority. It would be a start to a change. Tulare changed the Hospital Board they can change the City Council.

    I also wonder why the Mayor and Police Union took tax dollars from Tulare and dined at Cattlemans in Selma and not at a Tulare Restraunt could it be they wanted to not be seen? Something stinks in Tulare and it’s not the Sewer Plant.

  8. This has become a joke to the good Mayor Jones…….he is the one pulling all the strings. He rests easy at night knowing he can simply place blame on any individual that sits on the council, I am sure it won’t be the city Attorney, her office is and will be the good Mayor Jones’ defense, funny how that works almost like it was pre-planned. The City Manager…….Yikes, I’d keep the gas tank full buddy…..The good Mayor Jones is self righteous and pompous he won’t go down with out a fight figuratively and physically I am sure. The good Mayor Jones has been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar more than the Cookie Monster. Not a person dare try to remove him from his pulpit of power and deceit…… impeach the good Mayor Jones…you will be shunned a racist by all accounts a no gooder a rebel rouser … god forbid he comes after you or sends another to do his bidding.
    I was born and raised in Tulare…. been around the world seen a few things….. This situation…… the good Mayor Jones, the Police Department, The City of Tulare…..at this point I think the citizens of Tulare are to be listed as Victim #1 the TPD-3 Victims #2,#3 & #4. The Police Department as a whole Victim #5……. Suspect #1 the good Mayor Jones and I can only imagine the co-conspirators he shall implicate. It’s like a Lifetime movie or HBO miniseries, when it all comes out definitely 20/20 or 60 minutes.
    I pray for the city, because I can’t afford to move.
    Chief/ Cap/ L-T keep your heads up. Stay in the fight.

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