In the first Tulare City Council meeting following Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones igniting the Ag community on social media, and subsequent attempt to hose down the flames by hosting a private town hall meeting last week, hundreds of Tulare citizens and members of the Ag community showed up to make their voices heard Tuesday night.
The council chambers overflowed with the 104 audience seats taken, an additional 40 temporary seats filled in the lobby and 80 in the Olympic Room. Beyond seating, numerous interested parties stood alongside the walls and in the halls. Sound was piped into the lobby and overflow room. And, for those unable to attend, the meeting was live streamed to the Valley Voice’s Facebook page with 766 concurrent viewers at one time and more than 2,400 comments made during the meeting.
The original comments made by the mayor on a private Facebook page, and reproduced on My Job Depends on Ag’s page on May 18, claimed such things as agriculture “strips the natural resources and contaminates our ground water and air” and “causes asthma and valley fever, cancer and kills bees.”
Adding to Tulare citizens’ ire is that the mayor had removed an item from the council meeting’s agenda – that of restructuring of the mayoral position within council, which was asked to be placed on the agenda by Councilman Jose Sigala. According to Interim City Manager Willard Epps, he was placing the item on the agenda last week. However, at some point it was omitted prior to formal publication of the meeting.
During a K-TIP radio interview on June 4, Jones said:
“He [Councilman Sigala] did submit it again for the fourth time and just in the sake of the way we flow at our meetings, if Jose would like his opportunity to grandstand in front of the crowd that’s gonna be there Tuesday night he can make that request, and if the council decides they want to put it on, they can put it on. And then once that happens, there’s nothing the mayor or one council member can do to remove it.
“It’s one of those issues where we’re gonna keep beating this dead horse, and the council in the past have not wanted to deal with that. My term ends in November. If they change their mind, they have every right to do that, at the end of the council meeting where we go over the topics of interest from each council member, if that’s something that Jose wants to bring up and request from the council, and put on our next agenda, that’s how they’ll do that. But for Jose to just kind of want to tell the interim city manager, here, this is what I want you to do and we’re gonna do it in the wake of what’s happening, that’s just not how we do it.”
So aggravated are some citizens, they have recently formed a recall group working to pull Jones from city council altogether. Many citizens met the night of Jones’ town hall handing out recall stickers on the street corner of the hall where the forum took place. They were also in attendance at the council meeting.
Council attendees were offered “My Job Depends on Ag” yard signs and barbeque beef sandwiches across from the Tulare Library, where council meetings are held, just prior to the council meeting.
Following the customary flag salute and invocation, public comments began. Councilman Sigala asked what happened to the restructuring of the mayor agenda item and whether it was the mayor who had taken it off. He also asked that the public comment period be extended and that each comment be reduced from a normal three minutes to one minute per speaker, as it appeared numerous individuals wanted to comment.
After being reprimanded for speaking out of turn, the mayor admitted it was he who pulled the item off the agenda. Jones also stated that he was going to suggest waiving any overall time limit on public comments, allowing all interested the opportunity to speak while retaining the regular three minute per speaker time limit.
One of the first to speak, John Parreira, said he has lived in Tulare most all of his life and admitted this was his first time to attend a council meeting. He said he found what the mayor had wrote to “be appalling. The mayor needs to go out to the farm and see what goes on, and learn about what happens.”
To applause, Parreira said, “Mayor, please do us a favor, step down!”
Xavier Avila, a Land O’Lakes board member, said he “echoed” the mayor should resign as mayor, “and not only as mayor, but I think you should resign from city council.”
In speaking to the other three council members in attendance, he referred to the fact that there is now a boycott to stop buying things in Tulare. “You should look into how much farmers and dairyman buy in this town.” The other towns are going to get the tax dollars from their purchases, not Tulare, he added. “The wound is so deep, it’s not going to heal, it’s going to fester. At this point, it’s a financial burden on the city and I think you have a fiduciary duty to look out for that.”
Dr. Edward Henry, a retired veterinarian who took care of dairy cows in both Tulare and Kings Counties, submitted the Tulare County Crop and Livestock report from 2016, one copy for public record and one for the mayor, for review. Tulare County’s total production of crop and livestock for that year was $6.3 billion, with milk and dairy totaling $1.6 billion, he read. He also shared that Tulare County ships to 75 different countries in the world and he read the top 10 off.
“Now tell me that these countries would be accepting our food products, if they were so toxic, causing cancer – these countries could not do that,” he said.
Tulare Ag teacher, David Caetano, told council he gave his students an assignment to write a letter to the mayor in response to his Facebook comments. Students were allowed to agree or disagree, but had to justify everything they said. He brought 42 of the letters with him, giving them to the city clerk. He was joined by six Tulare FFA members, one of whom, Macy Wilbourn, read her letter.
“Open-mindedness, honesty and communication skills are all qualities that make a good leader,” she said. “You were definitely honest in your message, and you definitely communicated your opinion and got your point across with this post, however you have proven to be extremely close-minded which can be detrimental to our town with you as our leader. . . You now have to deal with the consequences that come with attacking the majority of our town. Drive through your town Mr. Jones and what do you see? Agriculture. Agriculture that feeds the population of not just our county, but of the entire world.”
Wilbourn pointed out that 60% of Tulare’s tax revenue comes from agriculture. “I’ve been educated, not trained, to know that agriculture benefits the community,” she said, referring to the mayor’s Facebook comments that he could not be educated. She pointed out the diseases the mayor attributed to Ag were not actually caused by Ag, but rather genetics, fungus and so forth. “Agriculture is the heart of Tulare,” she concluded.
Numerous others spoke including Dennis Mederos, who grew up on a dairy, and has practiced law in Tulare for 40 years. Mederos wanted to make it clear that being conservative or liberal has nothing to do with the conflict at hand.
“In the community I grew up in, we respected the views of others, and the political positions that they had,” he said. But, that wasn’t the issue.
“The situation has gone on long enough,” he said, “we have turmoil . . . it’s time for you to act and deal with this.” He asked the council members to following what Councilman Sigala had requested to reorganize.
The public comment period lasted 1 ½ hours.
What started the Ag community fury?
The original Facebook comment was screenshotted in by Erik Wilson of Dos Palos, from a conversation taking place on his sister’s Facebook page. Subsequently, it had also started Tulare talking.
“Here’s your mayor Tulare. Tulare, Ca home to the World Ag Expo. The most productive agricultural county in the entire USA. Tulare Ag generates more dollars alone than some states do. And this is your mayor? What a complete moron,” Wilson said with the post.
The mayor had written:
“You’re having a conversation in your head. Ag depends on the people. Ag strips the natural resources and contaminates our ground water and air. Ag causes asthma and valley fever, cancer and kills bees. You can’t educate me. You’re trained. You can share with me what you’ve been trained to think. We can debate the difference between what you think and what I think.”
To put this in context, a conversation had evolved on Wilson’s sister’s personal Facebook page regarding thoughts as to whether Governor Jerry Brown and the state government are restricting agriculture and limiting water supplies to Valley farmers. The posts just prior to Jones’ read.
“I just don’t understand how you can be the mayor of Tulare and hate agriculture. You’re literally biting the hands that feed you.”
“I don’t hate anything,” Jones wrote. “Ag depends on the people. I know you agree with that but. Thats the way it is. Our Military protects your right to Farm. Our Government, “The People” Subsidizes your industry. I love Ag. I don’t like people who claim to hate California, while taking so much from California. If you don’t like it leave.”
“Like all the people that make the statements have been fed an agenda, environmentally, socially and financially, they write articles, create restrictions, enforce sanctions and yet make absolutely zero effort to go visit family farms to gain a better understanding. So all that tells me is we have a bunch of “educated” fools that would rather stay ignorant and complacent in their agendas to get votes than to be educated in their understanding of Agriculture. I’m in education and my job without a doubt depends on Agriculture. Every rural community I serve, the children I teach, the entire infrastructure if [of] those towns depend on Ag,” Kayla Wilson responded.
Restructuring of the council and mayor will be on the next council agenda
Later in the council meeting, during council reports, Councilman Greg Nunley requested discussion of the restructure of the mayor position be placed on the next meeting’s agenda. He did make it clear that he did not think Jones intended to say anything negative about Tulare. Discussion ensued with Sigala stating that the mayor could resign.
“I think the right thing to do tonight, Mr. Mayor, is for you to resign as mayor.”
After mentioning that he had defended Sigala from some criticism after intense opposition to Sigala’s sanctuary city proposal, Jones said, “Don’t ever quit. I was voted into this position and I’m not quitting on the people who voted me here. That will never happen and I hope you don’t think that’s an option.”
Sigala said, he was not asking Jones to quit the council, just the position as mayor.
The city attorney Heather Phillips intervened, “I am going to break in at this point, OK, you guys are getting way off track.”
A consensus was made with Nunley, Sigala and Vice Mayor Maritsa Castellanoz for a reorganization of the council and the mayor’s position to be placed on the June 19 agenda.