Tulare has a new interim city attorney.
Mario Zamora of the Hanford-based law firm Griswold, LaSalle, Cobb, Down and Gin was given the nod by members the Tulare City Council at a special meeting Tuesday, July 24.
Tulare County Native
Zamora, who also provides legal advice to the Lindsay City Council, immediately took his spot on the dais beside the council. He replaces former City Attorney Heather Phillips of Goyette and Associates, at least until permanent legal counsel is hired.
A native of Lindsay, Zamora attended Cal State Northridge before taking his law degree at the University of the Pacific.
“I spent most of my life there (in Lindsay),” Zamora said. “I came back here because my family is still here.”
Failure to Appear
The special meeting–held on July 24 when Zamora and his firm were hired–was required after three of the five council members failed unexpectedly to attend the regular meeting held a week earlier on July 17. As the afternoon wore on, members Maritsa Castellanzo, Greg Nunley and finally, just minutes from the scheduled meeting time, Carlton Jones informed Interim City Manager Willard Epps they would not attend.
Councilman Jose Sigala was on hand for the July 17 meeting, as was Mayor David Macedo, who was told by Epps there would be no quorum that night as he was walking from his car to the meeting. Word that Jones would not attend came too late for an official cancellation, leaving Macedo, Sigala, members of city staff and a puzzled audience waiting some 15 minutes for one of the three missing council members to appear.
Ultimately, they were disappointed.
Making Tulare Better
While he was already a presence at City Hall while awaiting the formal approval he now has, Zamora said he is eager to officially begin working on the city’s legal issues.
“We’re very happy to be here,” he said. “We’re happy to get some work done.”
Zamora’s firm also provides legal counsel to the cities of Hanford, Woodlake and Coalinga, as well as Lindsay and now Tulare.
He described the staff at City Hall as dedicated to improving the city, which has seen an unsettling amount of controversy recently, most lately the firing of the chief of police, the departure of the city manager and the removal of the former city attorney. The council also reorganized itself in June, removing Jones from his position as mayor. Jones’ removal followed remarks he made about the nature of the agriculture industry and its harmful effects on the environment and health, which upset many in the community.
The post-reorganization mood now seems to be one of cooperation.
“Everyone here is working to make Tulare better,” Zamora said. “That’s what it’s really about for us.”
Not everyone was there the night of July 27. The special meeting began with two council members nowhere to be seen, a seeming repeat of the previous week. Missing again were Jones and Nunley.
Jones, who was merely tardy, took his seat without explaining his lateness a few moments into the meeting. Nunley, however, never appeared. Mayor Macedo eventually explained Nunley had accompanied his daughter as she moved out of the area to attend college.
Nunley recently found himself accused of possible violations of state election laws. His critics claim Nunley is creating a conflict of interest by creating new contracts with the city while serving on the council. In his defense, Nunley claims to be following guidelines prepared for him by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
Conflict of Interest
The issue became public at the June 5 Tulare City Council meeting, when Nunley was accused by attorney Michael Noland, who represents real estate developers the Lagomarsino Group, of violating Government Code Section 1090. The law prohibits elected officials from doing business with the entity they represent to avoid creating conflicts of interest. Noland claims Nunley went outside the law when he and the city agreed to extend for 12 months an 8-year-old development agreement for Nunley’s Tesori Subdivision. The Council approved a second 12-month extension in June.
The issue is further muddied by the removal of Phillips as city attorney. Phillips wrote several letters to the FPPC on Nunley’s behalf before she was removed from the position in a 5-0 vote last month.
Her removal followed a closed-session review of her performance that was requested by Nunley and which took place on June 19. Nunley called for the review after Phillips aided in a records request at Tulare City Hall that sought details of Nunley’s business deals with the city.
Minutes of the June 19 meeting, which included the closed-session review, were only officially approved last week. The delay has been explained as a clerical error.
In other business, the Council made a pair of appointments to the city’s Planning Commission and its Police Department Citizen Review Complaint Board. Chosen first was a new planning commissioner, and getting someone in place was slightly urgent, prompting Mayor Macedo to avoid delaying the decision until the full council was present.
“We could choose to continue this to the August 7th meeting,” he said before moving ahead with the vote. “We have been having quorum problems big time.”
He deferred to Community and Economic Development Director Josh McDonnell, who oversees the Commission. He played down the urgency somewhat.
“The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned,” McDonnell said. “I do believe that we will have a quorum for the first meeting in August, so it’s not extremely sensitive.”
Allowing each council member the opportunity to select members of the city’s various commissions, particularly the Planning Commission, has been a issue of contention for the council recently. That prompted a selection of lots by the four council members present to determine which of them would make the latest appointment. Jones won the right, and he immediately appointed Anthony Olivares to the seat.
Olivares’ term will expire at the end of 2018.
Vice Mayor Castellanzo the appointed Xavier Avila to fill a vacant seat on the Police Review Board.
The Tulare City Council will meet again at 7pm Tuesday, August 7 in the Council Chambers at the Tulare City Library, 491 N. M Street.