Tulare’s leadership has changed yet again. Its temporary leadership, more precisely. The change happened Monday, March 26, during a special closed session city council meeting.
On March 20, the city’s police chief, Wes Hensley, was fired by the then city manager, Joe Carlini. A few hours later, Carlini was himself fired by city council during a closed session of a regularly scheduled meeting.
Rob Hunt, city community services manager, was named interim city manager according to Mayor Carlton Jones’ report following closed session. Minutes of the meeting revealed a vote of 4-0 vote for the firing and interim appointment, with Councilman Jose Sigala being absent.
But, less than one week later, Hunt is out as interim manager and Fire Chief Willard Epps was named as the new interim city manager.
Citizens had voiced their approval of the first interim appointment.
“I think what has happened to Chief Hensley is a tragedy,” said former city council member Shea Gowin, following the March 20 meeting. “But, I am happy with the naming of Rob as interim city manager. He’s great and he’s going to be a breath of fresh air.”
“I have no idea why council decided to make the change,” Chris Harrell, a concerned citizen, said of Monday’s changes. “I wonder why they felt there was a need to change this quickly – it doesn’t make any sense at all. I know that Rob Hunt would have been incredible at that job. At the same time, I feel the exact same with Chief Epps. I feel for him having to lead the fire department at the same time as having to deal with all of this unnecessary drama at city hall. I have no qualms whatsoever as to how good a job he will do.”
But of the change, Harrell said, “It just speaks more to the ineffectiveness going on in the city right now.”
Epps has served the city’s fire department since the mid 1980’s. It is unclear as to why the change in interim management was made – it was not a unanimous council vote.
Former chief wants to appeal his termination
Hensley had been on paid administrative leave since September 27, 2017. Capt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman of the Tulare Police Department were also placed on paid administrative leave the first week of November, last year. Even though Hensley was fired, Ynclan and Boatman remain on leave.
Michael Lampe, Hensley’s attorney, requested on March 22 that a Skelly hearing be conducted by the city.
However, he’s not sure that will be granted – and, with concern that an appeals hearing request must be made within the 30-day window of termination, Lampe sent a letter to Tulare’s attorney, Heather Phillips, and [then] Interim City Manager Rob Hunt on March 26, calling for an appeal.
Hensley has waived his privacy rights, Lampe stated, and wants his appeal hearing to be held publicly.
“As you may be aware, Mr. Hensley has previously indicated that he will waive his right to privacy, and hereby demands that his Administrative Appeal be conducted in a public setting, open to both the press and interested citizens,” the letter stated.
Numerous witnesses on Lampe’s list include the mayor and all other city council members, alongside several current and former city employees including Carlini, Human Resources Director Janice Avila, Finance Director/Treasurer Darlene Thompson, and several Tulare Police Department officers and personnel.
Two names on the list aren’t affiliated with the city.
The rationale for putting those two — Jake Cari and John McGinness – on the list is up for speculation.
However, a simple Google search revealed a former Sacramento County sheriff and current radio host by McGinness’ name. The Valley Voice had previously requested a copy of the investigator’s contract, but was denied any information on the name, timeline or pay of the investigator by Sarah Tobias, the city’s assistant attorney.
Rumors swirling around the city claimed that the person hired as an outside investigator for investigations into Hensley, as well as the other two staff placed on leave, was a retired sheriff or police chief from Sacramento or the Bay Area.
It’s unclear whether McGinness is that investigator, but research by the Voice did not reveal any other clear connection to the case.
Online research by the Voice did not reveal what connection Cari could hold to Hensley’s firing.
In his letter, Lampe further stated, “Under §1008 of the City of Tulare Merit System Rules and Regulations, the hearing ‘shall’ be conducted within 30 days of your receipt of this written appeal. Mr. Hensley does not wish to waive his right to a timely hearing, and would like for the hearing to commence not later than April 25, 2018.”
The letter was sent via email. Lampe requested confirmation for receipt of the letter; if a confirmation was not received, a copy would be personally, physically, delivered to the city.
Other cities looking for managers
In the meantime, a formal city manager search will begin. Tulare is not the only Tulare County city looking for a new city manager. A decision as whether to extend the city manager search in Farmersville, or to make an appointment, was on that council’s agenda on March 26. There, the city’s police chief, Mario Krstic, is serving as interim city manager.
Exeter also has an interim city manager following the loss of Randy Groom, who was appointed city manager for Visalia toward the end of 2017. In Exeter, former Visalia assistant manager, Eric Frost, is serving as interim. The city manager position is on the closed agenda for the March 27 council meeting for the second time in a row.