It has been a turbulent few weeks for the City of Tulare with citizens questioning their choice in electing council members and the city’s training of its police force.
During the April 3 city council meeting public comment period, many had something to say, and each had only three minutes to comment.
Patrick Isherwood, a Tulare resident, expressed concerns about actions and community perceptions regarding transparency and follow-up through the Sunshine Laws. His family has lived in Tulare since 1857 and he, personally, has served on many boards and commissions, he said.
“As a commissioner, I have attained training on the Ralph M. Brown Act California Government Code 54950, and the Bagley Keene Act and other civil rights legislation. The sections’ preamble has a coveted meaning as it states it is the public policy of this state that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and the proceedings of public agencies be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed. . . What concerns me is watching certain proceedings in city council meetings, I question that such acknowledgement to the public process is not being followed through.”
He commented on, as an example, the fact that Councilman Jose Sigala had, at previous council meetings, asked for “explanations regarding protocol, procedures and simple point of order to the city attorney in open meetings that were not responded to.”
When, however, he was ignored, Isherwood said, “it leads me, to put it bluntly, what the Hell is going on?”
He is left to read and speculate on newspaper reports. His point is, he said, “the public is being left with too many perceptions. I support my fellow Tulareans who are just wanting the conversation to be had.”
Tulare resident Steven Harrell chose to comment regarding the firing of Tulare Police Chief Wes Hensley, who served 683 days as chief, he said. Harrell, a former Tulare Police Department captain, stated that “unless things had changed,” department heads should be evaluated at least once if not twice a year. He did not know, he said, whether Hensley had ever had an evaluation with a city manager.
Harrell quoted from Hensley’s termination letter –
“You are being dismissed to further the goals of this Organization, due to a loss of confidence in your ability to lead the Police Department in a manner that is consistent with the goals of this Organization; having management style that is incompatible with this Organization’s/ Administration’s goals and the philosophies of leadership upon which they are based.”
“The purpose of an evaluation,” Harrell continued, “is to inform an employee whether they are deficient in some areas or if they excel in areas. . . It would be interesting to know what Chief Hensley’s evaluation was in 2016.”
If there were any problems, at that time, it should have been noted by the city manager, Harrell continued. It is his contention that the chief had not been informed of any possible problems until immediately prior to his being placed on administrative leave.
Harrell also quoted from a letter to Hensley’s attorney, Michael Lampe, from the city’s attorney, Heather Phillips, on the 27th of March –
“. . .your prior threat to ‘embarrass the City. . .’
“This city does not need help embarrassing itself, this council takes care of that and continues to embarrass the city – this city is known throughout the state and even on the East Coast.”
“Your evaluation will be conducted at the ballot box at the next election,” he concluded.
Firing of the Chief
Chief Hensley was fired on March 20. He had been on paid administrative leave for nearly six months, and was under investigation as directed by the city manager. However, his firing was not attributed to the investigation, but to the aforementioned paragraph quoted by Harrell.
The Voice, through a public information request, asked the city for a copy of any reference manual or printed copy of the organization or administration’s goals and philosophies.
In a response from the city’s assistant attorney, Sarah Tobais, she said –
“The City has completed a search for responsive records and did not locate any, as there is no reference manual or printed copy of the organization or administration’s goals and philosophies as referenced in your request.”
Hensley, and his attorney, Michael Lampe, have been fighting his being placed on leave, and subsequently his termination. Hensley was terminated by the city manager, Joe Carlini, who himself was fired by city council later the same evening.
The city personnel action form dealing with Hensley’s termination noted the former chief would be paid through March 20th, the day of his termination. It was signed by Carlini and Janice Avila, the city’s human resources director, and dated March 20.
The personnel action form with regard to Carlini’s being terminated was signed by Mayor Carlton Jones, and Avila as well. Noted on this form was his pay through March 20th, but also a severance package of nine months, totaling $129,000+, an agreement made in his original contract as city manager last June. This action form was actually signed on March 21.
A possible appeal hearing
Lampe has requested a public appeal hearing; one which Phillips, wants to deny. Each attorney has spent time bartering since March 20 – arguing the matter through emails, and citing assundried similar incidents and court findings.
Another local media outlet reported –
“Hensley will be provided an appeal in accordance with what ‘the law provides for.’ Hensley’s reinstatement as police chief will not be a possible outcome, she said.”
Phillips was quoted as further stating –
“’The California Police Chiefs Association and all relevant case law have been consulted to ensure that the city is following proper procedure in this case,’ Phillips said. ‘An administrative appeal does not mean a full evidentiary hearing. That is only available to persons with vested property rights in their continued employment.’”
Lampe, questioning her comments, called upon the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA), himself, steering the association’s executive director and legal representative to the article. Upon review, James Touchdown, CPCA legal representative, balked.
He wrote a letter to the article’s author and copied it to Lampe. The letter said, in part, –
“I am writing this e-mail to you because your article incorrectly asserts that the California Police Chiefs Association, and specifically both I and the Executive Director for the Association, have purportedly ‘confirmed’ that it is the Association’s position that Chief Hensley is entitled to a ‘limited liberty interest administrative appeal hearing.’ Please be advised that this statement is incorrect. The Association has ‘confirmed’ no such position with Ms. Phillips.
The Association has taken no position concerning the legal dispute between Chief Hensley and the City of Tulare.”
Lampe said, he feels Phillips and the city owe Hensley an apology.
As the Voice has reported, Lampe hopes to prove in a public appeal hearing is a list of items including just what was the initial cause of Hensley’s being placed on administrative leave and that, while denied by the actual Notice of Termination, that reasoning came into play with Hensley’s termination.
Lampe also spoke at the April 3 council meeting on behalf of Hensley. He addressed the misquotation of the CPCA by Phillips, saying the city attorney has taken it to a new level.
His question, he said, was, “Is this the best you can do? You are just going to make things up? Just let your lawyer go out to the press and say things that are completely false? Is this how you treat a man who wore a badge for this city for 27 years?”
Lampe said the city attorney declined to apologize to Hensley. He suggested that at least three members of the council at a special meeting could instruct the city attorney to apologize and further to give Hensley the public hearing he deserves. He suggested one of two local retired judges to oversee the hearing.
Reasoning for termination
The “real” reasoning for Hensley’s being placed on leave on September 27, 2017 has been speculated upon, since that day. According to a letter from Lampe to Phillips, Carlini had told Hensley to look into the receipt of a dinner Mayor Carlton Jones had paid for with a city credit card. The receipt indicated a meal for three at Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Selma, with Corp. James Kelly, who is also the president of the Tulare Police Officer’s Union, plus one.
According to the letter, Lampe has sources, other than Hensley, who were aware of the situation and heard a conversation between Carlini and Hensley.
“I have the f*****g Mayor committing fraud with the city credit card, what is next?” was a quote by Carlini within the letter.
According to various sources, Carlini later told Hensley to back off from looking into the incident. The mayor’s wife had come in and reimbursed the city for the dinner. At this point, it is still unclear as to who the mayor had paid for other than himself. Jones has also been quoted as having said, “So I bought my family dinner. What’s the big deal?”
If it was a legitimate city expense, as the mayor implied, then why was the city reimbursed by his wife?
Lampe also stated –
“Mayor Jones has repeatedly made public statements that he knows to be false, designed to negatively impact my client’s reputation, and violate both his privacy and due process rights”
“Shortly after Mr. Carlini fired Chief Hensley, and before he was fired as city manager later that day, Carlini admitted that he was being pressured to fire the chief.”
For the potential hearing, Lampe would like to call a minimum of 18 witnesses including all city council members and numerous city employees including police department officers and staff, and the former city manager.
Councilman Jose Sigala said he intends to ask the city to place a discussion on the use of city credit cards by councilmembers on a future council agenda.
“We need to be refreshed on policy,” he said, “and so the public can understand. I understand the need for it [a city credit card].” Although, Sigala said he refrains from using one.
Sigala also expressed concern with regard to the difference between the two possible statements made by Carlini.
“What concerns me is we have two vastly different versions of what Joe Carlini said regarding the use [by the mayor] of the [city] credit card,” he said.
Tulare Capt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman were also placed on paid administrative leave, on the first week of November last year, and have also been under investigation. Despite Hensley’s termination, Ynclan and Boatman remain on leave. A public information request made on March 22 by the Voice, as to whether the investigation with regard to any or all three officers is still ongoing, has not yet been answered. To date, Ynclan and Boatman remain on paid administrative leave.
With regard to managing the city, on March 20, the city council named Community Services Director Rob Hunt as interim city manager, in a 4-0 vote with Councilman Jose Sigala absent. Six days later in a special meeting, Hunt was pulled and replaced by the city’s fire chief, Willard Epps in a 3-2 vote. Why the switch was made has not been made public.
TPD officer-related shooting
On March 12, two Tulare Police Officers were involved in the shooting of a suspect, who died from his injuries. The man, Jontell Reedom, a Tulare resident, was reportedly assaulting a bus driver, who had just gotten off work. Officers responded to a 911 call and a fight ensued.
Reedom ran following fighting one officer, TPD Interim Chief Barry Jones said at the time. A second officer intervened and used a Taser, which was “ineffective,” Jones said during a television interview. One officer used a baton, while another used pepper spray. Reedom “obtained control of the baton and that’s when shots were fired.”
Some citizens have been vocal in denouncing the department, claiming officers are not properly trained and were using unnecessary force.
One of the officer’s suffered from a broken nose and other bruises; the other received several cuts and bruises.
The two officers were placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation performed by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. The TPD is also performing an internal investigation to assure there are no policy violations, Jones said. One officer has 10 years law enforcement experience; the other three years.
Reedom did have mental health issues, the family declaring he was schizophrenic.