Tulare mayor hosts private townhall forum

Xavier Avila and Carlton Jones spoke at Jones’ townhall forum on Thursday night. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones had a chance to explain his controversial social media comments on Thursday night — and hoped to ignite a wider conversation in the community through a privately-held town hall forum. He hopes to hold more, and encouraged the audience to host their own and invite him.

Jones told the public that his Facebook comments were taken out of the context of a larger conversation — described as a chess match — but said he was “totally wrong” in the way that he expressed his views.

He had invited Tulare residents and farmers to come to the forum to ask him questions and debate and discuss agriculture in the Central Valley. Approximately eighty to one hundred people attended the forum.

“There’s three things: there’s what was said, who was saying it, and the way it was said,” Jones said. “I was totally wrong in the way I was saying it. I was totally wrong in having a chess match with another dude — I don’t even think we were focusing on the information, we were just taking shots at each other. And the goal was: oh, you took a shot at me, I took a shot at you.

“Now, what was said is what I would love to get an understanding of here today. If I said something that anyone disagrees with, that’s what we can talk about, and explain these concerns. Now — who was saying it, some people have an issue with me saying those things. And that I’ll never apologize for.”

He spoke at the Tulare Senior Center to a gathering of farmers, farmworkers, and community members. Jones invited Xavier Avila, a Land O’ Lakes Board of Directors member — and member of the Tulare Local Healthcare District and Tulare Cemetery District boards — to speak as a counterpoint from the agricultural community.

Jones’ comments, posted on the My Job Depends on Ag Facebook group by Erik Wilson, whom he was having the conversation with.

Wilson is a co-founder of the My Job Depends on Ag group, and his post sparked intense interest in the agricultural community. More than 500 concurrent viewers watched the Voice’s live stream of the forum, and his comments were a focus of the group’s posts since they were originally revealed.

“This isn’t a public event. This is money that I took out of my own pocket to pay for this event. I took off of work because I really wanted to give people an opportunity to hear what my truth is and to answer any of your concerns as your representative,” Jones said.

An emailed RSVP was required to attend the event, but Jones noted that he hadn’t turned away any attendees who emailed him.

“Anyone who sent me an email — I didn’t turn you away, you’re more than welcome. I asked you how many people you wanted to bring,” Jones said. “My only concern is they told me I could only fit so many people in here.”

According to the Tulare Park and Recreation department, the Senior Center can host a maximum capacity of 400 people.


Avila’s Take

Avila grew up on a dairy farm in Tipton, has worked as a fieldworker, and is a minor partner in a Fresno County dairy, he told the audience.

“I don’t have any issues personally with the mayor. I read all those comments and I understand it’s a private conversation — I’ve had those conversations not too much different than the mayor himself. I’ll admit that,” he said.

He said that Jones, as the “spokesman for the town,” had an outsized impact with his comments, given Tulare’s reputation as an agriculture-focused town.

“I’m not going to judge the mayor on his intent — I don’t know what’s in his heart, and he seems like he as a good heart, but I want to tell him and you that when you say those comments, and when people here ‘ag causes cancer’ — think about the person making ice cream, or making cheese, or the person hauling a load of beef, or the silage truck, or the guy pruning some trees, or the guy hoeing the weeds, or spraying herbicide.

“When he hears a spokesman of the town say that, it hurts. It’s almost like being indicted personally — like my job is causing cancer, like my job is causing pain and suffering and even death,” Avila said. “It doesn’t feel good.”

All human activity involves some level of pollution, but the ag industry is actively looking for ways to reduce its environmental footprint through research and innovation, Avila said.

Jones agreed — stating that improvement could never come “if you say you’re perfect.”

Avila told the crowd that “agriculture is under attack” from “extreme” environmentalists that would like to see agriculture taken out of the Central Valley — and Jones’ comments may have added fuel to the fire

“Probably, the mayor didn’t realize that his comments were almost on the same talking points as those people. Now, I’m not saying he wants to get rid of ag like they do, I’m just trying to tell you what struck the nerve and got this thing blown up — is [that] we are under attack,” he said.


Impact on Tulare

Lionel Pires, the owner of TF Tire & Service — which has locations in Tulare, Visalia, Exeter, and Porterville, amongst others — noted that his clientele told him they would take his business away from Tulare and to his other locations in the wake of Jones’ comments.

Lionel Pires speaks at Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones’ town hall forum. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

“I have two farmers that farm on the west side, and one that farms on the east side of Tulare. They aren’t going to do business in Tulare. They’ve told me that,” Pires said. “They told me that they would go to my other locations. They just won’t come to Tulare.”

Pires noted that he’s not the only one being told that.

“If Sturgeon & Beck doesn’t mind, I’ll make comment about them. They’ve had customers call and say the same thing, that they aren’t going to buy their vehicles in Tulare,” Pires said. “You’re talking 50, 60 thousand dollars in sales tax revenue lost.”

Jones admonished those that would take business away simply because of his comments.

“That’s more of a slap to your face and to their connection to this community. That is such a horrible thing to say or do. I apologize that you guys would even have to go through that,” Jones said. “I wish they would have came here, just to get a better understanding. We have questions on both sides of this argument.”

Pires said that those two examples weren’t isolated cases either — that farmers were organizing, saying they wouldn’t support Tulare through their tax revenue.

“I hope everyone here hears that. Because they disagree with one person or disagree with my conversation, the context of my conversation, and they have every opportunity to come talk to me about that or be here to get a better understanding, as we all are,” Jones said. “The answer isn’t to say, my intent is to show you that you depend on me, and by doing that I’m going to try to destroy you. That’s such a bad way to operate.

“We will survive. I hope people know that we are a beautiful city with beautiful businesses, and if someone wants to leave or not do business with us, then that’s just — what a sad tactic.”


The Ag Perspective

Tony Correia, president of Western Milling in Goshen, speaks at Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones’ townhall forum. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Tony Correia, president of Western Milling in Goshen, told the public that farmers have the most interest in protecting their land and conserving resources, noting that many Central Valley farmers come from a long lineage of agriculturalists.

“There’s nobody that has more of a desire to protect the dirt on which they farm than the farmer himself,” he said. “It’s his livelihood and the legacy of his family, and maybe his future children or grandchildren.”

He added that farmers had no desire to use “one drop more water than the minimum required to produce an optimum crop” — because of the price of water.

Brendan Black, a Tulare Western High School student, also hosts a podcast called “Talk Ag to Me.”

He told Jones that one of the largest issues is “agriculture literacy” — helping the public understand where their food comes from.

“This tends to lead to large logic gaps in arguments,” he said. “You have people saying that farmers are intentionally using pesticides that cause cancer, and it makes no sense to say that farmers are trying to hurt the consumer, when the farmer relies on the consumer for their living.”

A US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance survey found that 72% of consumers know “little to nothing about farming or anything,” he told Jones.

Black interviewed Wilson on his podcast. He told Black that if Jones’ original statements were rephrased, they wouldn’t have been nearly as bad.

“It more should have been phrased in the sense that — yeah, these are the issues agriculture’s facing, but my farmers back in my hometown are the ones trying to fix them,” Black said, to applause from Avila and the crowd.

Jones said what Black saw was a small portion of his larger conversation with Wilson, noting that he defended California farmers by stating that agriculture in the state wasn’t “obliterated”.

“Obliterated means totally gone,” Jones said. “I defended that statement. I get it — they were going after one elected official, and that’s fine, but my defense was don’t throw ag under the bus to go after your one political official.”

“You’re definitely the future of ag,” Jones added.


Jones’ Supporters

While Jones has had many detractors since his comments were revealed, multiple Tulare residents spoke up to support and defend him.

One of them was his second grade teacher, Ethel Shaver.

“I came to this meeting because I just found out about it — I’ve been extremely busy this week; but, however, I didn’t come here to go against the mayor, because I think he’s doing a very good job,” she said. “He’s a young man who’s trying to learn some things, and he’s still learning. But he’s on top of his solutions and what he’s trying to do.

“At the end of the day, I’m not going to accept you trying to oust out our mayor, because he’s a very, very good man. And you know what — we all are in a learning situation. I support the ag, and I support the mayor,” she said. “He has a right to speak out what he feels. I wouldn’t dare put down the ag, but I have some concerns about the ag as well.”

She said that many in agriculture were doing good things — but that there were some issues, like food waste, that were concerning. Previously during the forum, an attendee had brought up the issue of nearly 40% of food being wasted.

Jones also noted that he had received an email from a beekeeper praising his remarks.

“I am a commercial beekeeper, and you are 100% that ag is killing bees,” Jones said, reading from the email, noting that his comments had said ‘ag is killing bees.’ “They want them to pollinate, but they spray them at will. Keep up the good fight.”

Jones said he told the beekeeper that he was not “going against ag,” but that there were issues that shouldn’t be ignored.

Avila noted that part of that surplus is because government needs to ensure more than enough food is available for all of the country’s citizens and a growing population

“There’s a reason why government is involved in agriculture, and that’s because people need to eat — and the government needs to make sure that there is more than enough food, because when food gets scarce, prices go up,” Avila said. “Wars have been started over food — the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution. Wars have literally been started over food.”

He added that he was a hobbyist beekeeper, and that the Tulare County Ag Commissioner went so far as to warn him when fields were being sprayed to ensure that bees were not affected by pesticides.

“There’s a coordinated effort. The fact is, there’s accidents, just like cars get in wrecks,” Avila said. He added that pesticides help save bees from varroa mites, a parasitic mite that can destroy bee colonies.


Critics Unsatisfied

Jones’ words at the meeting weren’t enough for many of his critics.

Frank Lorenzo, an 83-year old retired farmer, said he’s lived in Tulare for 12 years, before that working 55 years on a family farm six miles west of Tulare.

“After reading and hearing the comments that Mr. Jones made about farmers, my soul is still bleeding. For those reasons, I am asking the City Council, city officials of Tulare, and whomelse it takes to do exactly what I would do if anyone that I had hired made the comments that he made and say anything contradictive to the farmers and the farming community of Tulare,” Lorenzo said. “That would be to fire him immediately and send him down the street, out of the business immediately.”

Lorenzo’s remarks received some applause from the crowd.

Jones said he had to be “more responsive, and less reactive” as a representative, a remark that some in the crowd seized on later.

Heather Warwick Christiansen, a Tulare resident, praised Jones’ efforts to hold the forum, but said Jones has “spoke off the cuff” on many different topics.

“To me, I’m a manager of my store. I am the head of my store. I have to watch what I say and think about what I say before I say it out in the community, on social media, or wherever else. My comment to you is — please think before you say,” she said. “I understand he might have taken a jab at you, but you’re the mayor. You should be above that.”

Art Cabello, a Tulare resident, agreed.

“You, as the mayor, should be the most apologetic — you, as the mayor, should show the most humility, and be humble, and say: ‘hey, look, I made a mistake,’” he said. “‘Now I want to try to fix it through these conversations.’ And I hope the conversations go on and that there’s dialogue.

“But I hope you’re not missing the underlying message. You are the mayor. You are Tulare; and, as that position, you will represent all of us. Doesn’t matter rich, poor, farmer, businessman, whoever. You’re still the representative of this community.”

Avila attempted to bring up comments previously posted by Jones and shared to the My Job Depends on Ag group by Raquel Garcia Joaquin.

“I’m gonna challenge you a little bit — this is not from Erik Wilson, this is from a screenshot taken not quite a year ago from a Raquel Garcia,” Avila said.

Jones stopped him.

“She just left. If they want to — see, you’re doing the let me count the punches that you’ve thrown at people, I’m gonna add them up — if someone wants to comment on something I’ve said, let them do that,” Jones told Avila. “If you have an issue with something I said to you, let’s answer that.”


Recall Efforts Taking Form

On the street near the Tulare Senior Center, multiple men had Recall Carlton Jones signs and handed out stickers.

One of the men, Mike Mezyck, said that he was spurred to action after Jones’ comments.

“We’re a farming community, and being our mayor, he’s supposed to speak for us — and then when he speaks about farmers, which is our community, I’m going to voice my opinion,” Mezyk said.

He added that the town hall was private.

“This is an invite by Carlton himself only — you have to email him personally to get invited to this. People I know emailed and he denied them, so we decided to stand on public property and do our thing,” he said.

There are residents working on a recall petition, he said, but the legalities are still being explored.

“Attorneys are getting involved first right now to make sure everything is on the up and up, and we should be starting by next week,” he said.

He encouraged citizens to vote.

10 thoughts on “Tulare mayor hosts private townhall forum

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  1. We are a farming community, I was raised on dairy’s in and around Tulare. Carlton Jones has divided the City of Tulare and should be recalled.

  2. Recall Jones. If you need more reason to do that watch the Town Hall video again.He wasn’t paying attention to all speakers, he was worried about what was happening on his phone which was probably the live feed comments.He’s aggressive and mouthy and full of deceit. Google his name. Look at court records. He needs to go…#recallJones

  3. The meeting was a joke! Xavier goes from participating in a recall meeting on Monday I believe to sitting on stage with that clown as if he is the voice for all farmers. Totally let down by Xavier, the conversations were all over the place and the mayor couldn’t remove his eyes from his phone! I will say that was a good attempt on the Mayors part to keep folks from going to council and telling him all about him. He is an embarrassment, a JOKE, a THUG, a THIEF, and a LIAR!!!! OH YEAH AND LETS NOT FORGET HE PULLED SIGALAS ITEM FROM AGENDA ON THURSDAY MORNING TO HAVE HIM REMOVED AS MAYOR!!! Face it CARLTON only you and your buddy JOE CARLINI want you!! He’s still hoping you force staffs hands at hiring him back at the Waste Water Treatment Plant! Hey Tulare how do you like that one!! Fires the city manager hours after city manager fires Wes Hensley to take away from his part in all of that! Now Carlton is trying to tell staff (this is true) how awesome Carlini would be back at waste water and really pushing for him to get re-hired!!!! The things we do to make others keep our secrets from coming out! WHATS DONE IN THE DARK SHALL COME TO LIGHT! so ya better wear shades!!

  4. Carlton Jones must be recalled. Carlton Jones does not have the experience, education, ethics, demeanor and vision our community deserves from a mayor!! Our community has had enough of his unethical, incompetent attempt at leadership

  5. After enduring this so-called “town hall” meeting, I saw first-hand where experience, education, ethics, demeanor and vision are sorely lacking. This will be lengthy, but let us look at a few things which were touched on in this article:
    1) “He hopes to hold more, and encouraged the audience to host their own and invite him.” Why should the citizens of Tulare pay money out of their own pockets to rent a facility to host a town hall, when the Mayor cannot take constructive criticism and only attempts to disparage the other person, and furthermore when he will not answer the relevant questions regarding the current City Council and City Hall atmosphere and his own wrongdoings? Also, why should people invite only him? There are four other councilmembers. It goes without saying that all of them cannot be there, due to a Brown Act violation, but still, the Mayor is not the end-all be-all of the city council.
    2) “I was totally wrong in having a chess match with another dude…” “Another dude,” exactly how the citizens of Tulare want to hear their Mayor speak towards someone. That “dude” has a name, and even if you didn’t want to use his name out of privacy respect, “man” “person” or even “gentleman” could have been used. Yes, this may have been a private function, but the Mayor was still there representing his position as Mayor. It wasn’t a college party, so don’t act like it. Try and present yourself like a Mayor.
    3) “This isn’t a public event. This is money that I took out of my own pocket to pay for this event. I took off of work because I really wanted to give people an opportunity to hear what my truth is and to answer any of your concerns as your representative,”
    The message should have been relayed from the very beginning that it was a private and not a public function, which the Mayor was paying for. There were mixed signals from the very beginning, regarding if this was an official town hall where all people are allowed to attend, or not. The Mayor’s track record of distrust in the past with similar situations did not help matters; considering the Mayor has held an event on city property in the past and did not pay for it, nor abide by the same rules that all citizens have to adhere to when they hold a similar event. Furthermore, you do not get any pity points for telling people that you took off work in order to have the meeting. Because it was your meeting, you could have decided to hold it anytime that you wanted to. It’s not the people’s fault that you didn’t work it around your schedule and decided to take time off instead.
    4) “That’s more of a slap to your face and to their connection to this community. That is such a horrible thing to say or do. I apologize that you guys would even have to go through that,” Jones said. “I wish they would have came here, just to get a better understanding. We have questions on both sides of this argument.” This is a classic example of trying to throw criticism back on to the critiquer to attempt to turn them into the “bad guy” and try and prop yourself up as the “good guy.” In this particular instance, these are individuals who have been working in and helping this town longer than the Mayor has been alive. And as such, they are trying to look out for the long-term best interests of this town, and realize that it will only get worse under the present leadership. Those individuals did not need to attend to get a better understanding; they already understand the Mayor’s tactics. The Mayor needs to realize that not only is internal commerce being jeopardized, but external commerce to Tulare is as well. When something like this occurs, an elected official needs to have an honest reality check with themselves and swallow their pride and do what is right for the future of the City, not what they feel is right for Themselves at the present moment.
    5) “She just left. If they want to — see, you’re doing the let me count the punches that you’ve thrown at people, I’m gonna add them up — if someone wants to comment on something I’ve said, let them do that,” Jones told Avila. A classic example of deflection when backed into a corner. The Mayor apparently feels that it’s not fair to count the punches thrown to people so they can be added up, because in his case, when all of his punches at people and organizations (which happen to span many years as well as different cities) are added up, it is fair to say that in any other city across this land, that “number of punches” would be grounds for, at the very least, removal of office.
    Which comes to the main question and final point. If any person, regardless of race, gender, experience in office, etc, would be removed from office in a heartbeat in other locales, why has it been allowed to continue and get worse here in Tulare? “He’s a good man,” “I see him in church,” “He’s coached my son,” etc, etc are all what I call emotional rationalizations, which are not good reasons to allow bad things to continue to happen. Nor is, “Give him a break, he’s still learning.” In any situation like this, as is the same with any job anywhere, the personal emotion has to be set aside, and the job-related facts are what need to be considered. Given Tulare’s current atmosphere, two councilmembers have a chance to finally begin writing some wrongs, which in their own way they are partly to blame for.

  6. Truth in the Valley didn’t read their own article they linked. It is 360,000 throughout California, not the Valley. Quote from article says:

    “The Brown administration, however, said the problem of unsafe water isn’t just agriculture’s fault, so farmers shouldn’t have to pay more than their fair share.”

  7. The soon to be ex-mayor set this meeting up and only allowed people that he agreed to and questions he was ok with? Is that accurate? Is that a town hall meeting? Ha. Nope not if he controls who attends and what they ask. Does not surprise me as he lacks the education, experience, integrity and intestinal fortitude to be confronted by people with intelligent questions of which he cannot provide an intelligent response to. He did not graduate college. Must have quit? He is not a quitter though? He never served in the military? He has never been a supervisor of a company or responsible for leading employees in a for profit environment. Has no clue how to manage a budget, employees, processes been accountable for such. We don’t need a self absorbed fireman leading a city. We need s saavy experiences business person with experience and one that has personal skills. He is an actor without s ting skills a small town wanna be politician that lacks integrity.

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