Silence of the Damned
In late spring of 2018 Lemoore’s City Manager, Andi Welsh, was fired.
That made Lemoore Police Chief Darryl Smith the interim city manager. Being the interim city manager meant he would be on the committee to hire a new city manager.
Lemoore ended up hiring Nathan Olson, and just by coincidence, Mr. Olson’s son was allegedly engaged to Mr. Smith’s daughter.
This may or may not be true, and may or may not be relevant, but it raised some red flags for City Council Member Holly Blair concerning conflict of interest.
To add a few more hues of red to those flags, the former city manager was the golden child in 2017. Ms. Welsh was given a raise in April, her severance pay was increased in November, and the city council was quoted as saying, “Welsh has exceeded our expectations.”
Yet, in January of 2018 Ms. Welsh was put on administrative leave. That was followed by her “stepping down” on May 9 with a tidy sum of $152,900 in her pocket.
And her severance was to only be paid if she was fired.
Hmmmm. This might sound familiar to our Tulare readers.
There are actually other “coincidences” that involve City Hall but I do not have room to explain them here.
Wanting answers, Ms. Blair first inquired internally if there was a conflict of interest between Mr. Olson and Mr. Smith. Not getting much response, she decided to read a statement from the dais asking first, if the two men were potential in-laws and second, if that would constitute favoritism in the hiring process.
She was not asking out of curiosity or to be nosy. She was asking on behalf of her constituents, because that’s what she was elected to do.
What Ms. Blair got in response was a blistering diatribe from Police Chief Smith saying she was out of line and that if he lived in her district he would recall her.
Since her inquiry about Mr. Olson and Mr. Smith, Ms. Blair claims she has been harassed by the Lemoore Police Department and has publicly requested an investigation on behalf of her complaints, and the complaints she has received from her constituents about the police.
But instead of initiating an investigation of the police department, the city began an investigation on her.
In August Ms. Blair was censured.
In September a recall effort started and then failed.
In January the City of Lemoore filed for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against Ms. Blair to shut her up.
Is it just a coincidence that she is the first Latina to ever serve on the Lemoore City Council and the city has gone to the extraordinary effort to file a TRO?
Perhaps not, but that is not the point.
The point is, Lemoore cannot tell a city council member to shut up.
Elected officials have the right to express themselves just like any other citizen in the United States.
It’s called the First Amendment.
The restraining order was filed specifically to force Ms. Blair to stop complaining publicly about the police department and city staff. The City of Lemoore’s reasoning behind the TRO is that Ms. Blair’s negative comments are putting the lives of the police and city staff at risk and creating an environment that will make it hard for the city to recruit quality applicants.
Mr. Olson and Mr. Smith feel that as an “agent of their employer” Ms. Blair must voice all criticisms concerning personnel in closed session or direct them to the City Manager, Mr. Olson.
But Ms. Blair is not an employee of the City of Lemoore. She is an elected official and cannot be removed from office by the city, nor can she be silenced by the city. She was not elected to defend city staff. She was elected to represent the residents.
In Ms. Blair’s case, the city was not suing over her allegedly defamatory statements made in public and on social media. The city was suing to ask the court for Prior Restraint. Prior Restraint would prohibit Ms. Blair from saying anything negative about the city in the future.
In other words it would prohibit her speech before the speech happens, kind of like the plot in Tom Cruises’ Minority Report.
While an individual can be sued for slander and libel, Prior Restraint is mostly unconstitutional and would be granted only under the direst of circumstances, such as a threat to the United States National defense or our national security.
Even though Mr. Olson and Mr. Smith are probably really mad that Ms. Blair said mean things about them, that doesn’t constitute a national emergency.
The verdict is still out whether Ms. Blair is crazy and spouting out baseless lies as her critics claim.
But the verdict is in that Ms. Blair has a right to do it. And for that we should all be grateful.
Because when cities gain the right to silence their residents, and then their city council members, the next to be silenced will be the Press. And I am not very good at being quiet.
Lien on Me
Someone put a bug in my ear about the Dinuba City Council so I toddled off to the Tulare County Treasury Tax Collector’s office to punch in some names. Their public computers have a trove of information such as deeds, changes in deeds, distribution of estates, law suits, and most interestingly tax liens.
I learned a couple things while perusing their files.
First, that Tulare City Council Member Carlton Jones actually has two domestic abuse arrests, not just one. When inventorying his impressive list of lawsuits for previous columns I missed this incident because it happened in Fresno County. The domestic abuse case popped up in Tulare County because the alleged victim filed a court order to collect child support payments.
The second fact I learned was that newly elected Dinuba Vice Mayor, Armando Longoria, has seven tax liens on the books.
Spanning from 11/16/2010 to 9/28/2015 most of Mr. Longoria’s tax liens seem to be unpaid business taxes on Moores Martial Arts in Clovis. Clovis is a funny coincidence for a Dinuba elected official. Maybe he could take Mayor Kuldip Thusu out to coffee after work.
When I called Mr. Longoria about his almost ten years of unpaid business taxes he said he wasn’t aware he had them. He also informed me that he had closed the business.
I spoke to the counter person at the Collector’s office and she said that their office goes above and beyond to notify people of their tax bill, even if they have moved.
And Mr. Longoria has lived in the same house for over 15 years.
To be fair, I typed in everyone’s name on the city council to see if tax liens were trending in Dinuba, but all I found were council members’ deeds.
So, lots of people have liens, but should they be stewards of our tax dollars?
Mr. Longoria’s financial woes have not dimmed his passion for civil service. He has run for Dinuba City Council every four years for ten years. He lost in 2006, 2010, and 2014, but after taking some good advice he won in District 3 last November. Two of his losses were to former city council member Scott Harness, who ultimately was the one who helped him win.
“Scott said I have to go out and talk to people. So I talked to everyone on my list that lived in the district and then had two weeks to spare,” Mr. Longoria said. “It was hard because I couldn’t start until after 5:00 because no one would be home.”
In previous elections he tried to do everything himself, putting up signs and leaving door hangers, “but I couldn’t get my message across,”
After losing by a large margin in the previous races, Mr. Longoria won in November by 22 points against Sal Medina, who has also run for the same seat several elections in a row.
“This time was different. This time I became a team player,”
Mr. Harness and other supporters also encouraged Mr. Longoria to get some leadership training and learn how to use a computer, which he did. But he still is unfamiliar with the concept of the Brown Act.
Considering his lack of experience, I was pretty surprised when Mr. Longoria said that during the reorganization of Dinuba’s City Council he immediately threw his hat in the ring for mayor.
“I nominated myself right away. Everyone wants to be mayor,” he said.
When I asked how he landed the position of vice mayor he said, “I was pretty surprised Emilio (Morales) nominated me.”
As for the Brown Act, Mr. Longoria is excited about attending workshops in different parts of the state that train council members on the rules and procedures needed to do the job.
As for his tax liens?
Mr. Longoria thinks they were all cleared up when he and his wife re-organized their finances during bankruptcy.