Tulare’s former mayor, Carlton Jones, opened the June 19 Tulare City Council meeting. Tulare’s new mayor, David Macedo, closed it. By the time the council came back from closed session, its city attorney spot was left vacant.
Both Jones and the City Attorney were voted out unanimously, including votes by Jones himself. The vote does not affect his position as a Tulare City Councilman, and no indication has been given that efforts to recall Jones from the council will slow down.
Before the vote, he warned the council against setting a precedent in removing him.
“If this is all they’ve got to do to get rid of you, they’ll be back,” he told the council.
Jones has been under intense criticism after private Facebook comments he made regarding agriculture were made public in the My Job Depends on Ag Facebook group. At this Tulare City Council meeting — and the last — council chambers overflowed into the Tulare Public Library as citizens came to make their voices heard; the Voice’s Facebook stream reached a peak of 1,240 simultaneous viewers.
They were encouraged by ag advocates, such as the My Job Depends on Ag group and Gar Tootelian, Inc. Both groups jointly held outreach events immediately preceding each meeting directly across from the library, which houses the council chambers.
Jones had supporters who spoke, but faced down considerable opposition from the crowd — and, in total, public comments lasted nearly two hours.
Jones’ Removal Vote
Jose Sigala has been one of Jones’ key critics on council, having previously brought forth motions to reorganize the council and remove Jones as mayor.
Some of those, such as one originally slated for the June 5 meeting, were unilaterally removed by Jones. This one was not removed, as it was voted on by the council as a whole.
“This isn’t about the ag. This is something I’ve been working on for months; as some of you may know, this was my fifth time trying to bring this to the council,” he said. “It was about the people being called clowns in our council, about me being called a clown out in a parking lot by the mayor, about a lot of folks who were fat-shamed and whose intelligence was questioned on social media, because that’s unbecoming of the mayor.”
Sigala moved that Macedo be named as mayor to applause from the crowd. Jones seconded the motion; the vote passed unanimously.
Macedo moved that Maritsa Castellanoz remain in her position; Sigala seconded to a unanimous vote.
David Macedo said that his installment as mayor doesn’t change his mind in choosing not to seek re-election. It only strengthens it, he said.
“They put me up there because of my experience, but it’s time for new ideas and new people — 20 years is long enough for anybody, and I don’t care what elected office it is,” he said. “New ideas, new energy need to come to the city, and there’s a lot of good talent out there. I think we’re going to be just fine.”
The City Attorney Removal
In closed session, the council voted unanimously to sever ties with Goyette and Associates, a law firm which had previously provided services for the city.
“We need a municipal law attorney. We need somebody that’s well versed in how city government works,” Macedo said, explaining his rationale for voting to cut ties with the firm.
The firm provided Heather Phillips as the City Attorney and Sarah Tobias as the Assistant City Attorney. Those seats are now vacant, though the city will be reaching out for services an interim basis, Macedo said.
The firm had been under fire for its flat-rate billing practices totalling $360,000 per year, which Jones defended at the May 1 City Council meeting. Armed with a spreadsheet of legal fees at that meeting, he made the case that the city was saving significant amounts of money.
A Voice data analysis showed that the figures were inflated by settlements and separate legal agreements for the city’s former redevelopment agency.
“We talk about so many of the flat fee and the hourly and it’s a moving target, because — a lot of times when you have high attorney bills, it’s because you’ve got a lot of development going on, you’ve got a lot of things going on,” he said. “So keeping them under control and making it look good is not always necessarily a good thing. I do think we’ll have a few lawsuits that we’ll have to deal with that are going to cost the city a little bit of money to defend.”
“It’d be nice to get a one-stop shop, but that’s not always possible. And in some of the lawsuits you go into, you’d better have the best,” he added.
Jones, In His Own Words
After the last public comment, and before the reorganization vote, Jones appeared before the council with his own yellow public comment card.
Charlie Ramos, a Tulare realtor, stood up from his seat to protest. He attempted to point out the agenda’s language that “…Council cannot legally discuss or take official action on citizen request items that are introduced tonight.”
Jones disagreed, stating that he was respectful during Ramos’ time, and motioned for officers. Three police officers surrounded Ramos, who acquiesced and sat down.
“I don’t think anything I’m going to say is going to change any of your minds,” he told the council.
Jones told the council that whether he stayed in the ceremonial mayor position, he said that he would still perform public service in Tulare.
He reiterated his prior comments that his comments were taken out of context, and said that he apologized for the way he said them — but wouldn’t apologize for being who he was.
“They weren’t offended at what I said, they were offended at the way I said it and who the person was saying it,” he said.
Jones said he was “still waiting to hear” what he said that was disagreeable.
“If you believe that there is nothing in ag that causes cancer; if you believe that, then the $23m that we took from Shell [in a recent water contamination lawsuit],” he said, “give it back.”
Prior to the meeting, he criticized Sigala on his Monday, June 18 appearance on KTIP, a local radio station.
He mentioned that he had previously removed Sigala’s requests to remove Jones from his position because they were disruptive.
“Once the council votes to put it on there, I wouldn’t even try to take it off. If there are — you know, to kind of keep the flow of the meeting going we’ll look at it, like when I do my agenda review and see what items can be moved to future agendas or what items don’t need to be there at all, and it’s become disruptive when every other meeting we have one councilmember saying I don’t like who the mayor is, and it’ll get voted down and then it’s right back on there, and then it gets voted on,” Jones said on the radio program.
“Whatever the hot topic of the meeting is — rather it be the hospital or the police chief, Sigala’s answer to that is, I think we need to change the mayors, which has no influence on any of those decisions; it’s just, that’s his MO.
“When Jose questions the leadership of Tulare, and he’s part of that leadership and one fifth of the equal share of that leadership, he’s yet to explain what his issue is — like, what’s his true issue with the leadership. He’ll bring up his concerns with the hospital, knowing that us as the council we don’t make decisions that have to do with the hospital — I get called a bully, then read all the way people talk and their comments on social media, and then they’ll turn around and call me a bully,” he said.
Sigala responded to Jones’ remarks at the meeting.
“The mayor mentioned on the radio on Monday that if I had a problem with the city leadership, that I was one fifth of the leadership, so I should have a problem with myself. That may be a logical thing to say,” he said. “Tonight, I want to be one third of the solution by selecting a new mayor.”
Bryson Ribeiro spoke to the council. He asked citizens to stand if they agreed with any of his statements, and asked council members to participate as well.
“Please stand if you appreciate the tireless hours, blood sweat and tears the farmers and dairymen put in on a daily basis to provide for our community,” he asked.
“Please stand if you appreciate those that are going to do the hard labor; the jobs that no one else is willing to do in our community, day in and day out,” he asked. “You are the backbone of this industry — without you, this doesn’t happen.”
“Please stand if, like me, you are Tulare Proud; if you are proud of this community’s ability to come together and speak out,” he said.
The entire council chambers had stood by that point, including the City Council.
“And finally, please stand if you demand that Carlton Jones be removed from the position of mayor tonight.”
Jones sat down, but other council members continued to stand after the statement, foreshadowing the eventual vote.
Stacie Silva, a San Luis Obispo resident, grew up in Tulare. She said she attended two years’ of council meetings as a high school student.
“I’m not here today to tell you to step down, because I know that your position as mayor is not the product of you knowing your constituency and being trusted by them,” she said. “I know it’s the product of you raising your hand at the meeting when they asked who wanted to be mayor, and everyone else said no.”
She encouraged the entire council to educate themselves on modern agricultural practices.
Tracy Miller, a Tulare resident, said he didn’t feel Jones “had the community’s back.”
“You’ve thrown the farmers under the bus, you’ve thrown the police department under the bus, you even threw the local high school under the bus a few years back and stood against them when they had to get their name changed,” he said. “It just seems like every time when I open the paper and read something, you’re not there for us.”
Jeremiah Smith, a Tulare resident and one of Jones’ coworkers at the Fresno Fire Department, said that he supported Jones remaining as mayor.
“I think there’s a lot of people here that would like to see Mayor Jones leave the seat as mayor, and I just don’t understand why,” he said. “Because you don’t like the way he told you the truth?”
“I’ve worked with Carlton Jones for; what, I don’t know, 11 years? Riding in the back of the same engine for that long, and I know for a fact that there is no one here in this room that is more passionate and dedicated to helping the citizens of Tulare than this man right here,” he said.
Euler Torres, a Tulare resident, implored the Tulare Police Department to investigate a Facebook comment that encouraged the lynching of the mayor.
“I read those comments about lynching our mayor and ‘go back to the good old days’,” he said. “I ask the police department to investigate these comments against public officials.”
Rosemary Wade said that she’s lived in Tulare her whole life.
“I am in favor of Carlton Jones. You know why? He’s concerned about the little things. I was at a meeting, and they voted to raise the water tax. Carlton was the only one that didn’t raise his hand to raise the water tax,” she said.
“It takes more than one person to run Tulare. And we’re in it all together — and I want you to know this is my town. God gave it to me, it’s my town,” she said. “I’m here to represent this Mayor Carlton Jones — I’m behind you, brother, and God’s gonna fix it. Yes he is.”
Carlton Jones declined to comment for this article.