Editor’s note: The writer of this article has been involved in the Hidden Valley Park extension issue.
The City of Hanford is considering hiring Mike Olmos, former Visalia City Manager as their interim city manager to replace outgoing manager Darrel Pyle.
Pyle resigned June 7.
He accepted a job as city manager of Norman, Okla., a city of 110,000 about twenty miles south of Oklahoma City. His first day will be July 15. He said he and his wife wanted to be closer to their two grown children.
Pyle’s departure from the powerful city manager position comes at a time when residents in many Valley cities, notably Hanford and Tulare, grapple with communications problems between the public and city government.
The interim replacement decision won’t be finalized until the regular council meeting on June 18, said Mayor Sue Sorensen, a strong defender of Pyle’s tenure.
The city will conduct a statewide search for a permanent replacement for Pyle who served Hanford for nearly seven years.
A new permanent city manager might not be in place for six months said Sorensen. She said she would like to have a community forum where the public can make suggestions on hiring the city manager.
While Pyle was city manager at a salary of $187,179 he oversaw a city budget which in the current fiscal year is $70,818,180.
Sorensen praised Pyle for his fiscal responsibility, his skills working with the city staff of more than 200 employees, his completion of the General Plan Update and update of zoning ordinances, and the completion of the Costco project on Hanford’s east side.
In a written statement provided to Valley Voice Pyle cited several accomplishments relating to fire protection, adding police officers and firemen, development projects such as the Costco Center and the Family Healthcare Network building.
The city was able to purchase two new fire stations in 2014 with existing money and it purchased Fire Station Number 3 for cash, Pyle said. Hanford is also expected to get its first $1.1 million ladder truck.
Pyle said one of the problems the next city manager will face is managing homelessness. “This is not a matter of solving the homeless crisis, but managing this population given the incredible lack of resources to address the Mental health and substance abuse crisis at the heart of the problem.”
Pyle’s tenure wasn’t all roses. During his time at the helm the city incurred a $50 million pension liability with PERS, the public employee retirement fund, a lawsuit from a Helena Chemical Company seeking $15 million in damages relating to the development of the Costco project and potential repair bills of $1 million each for the old Courthouse downtown and the Bastille next door.
The breach of contract lawsuit filed by Helena Chemical Company is currently in the discovery stage, said Ty Mizote, city attorney.
Sorensen defended Pyle regarding the pension liability and said this is a widespread problem with other cities besides Hanford. PERS changed its investment strategy and when the new strategy lost money, PERS left the cities on the hook.
Pyle improved the quality of life for consumers with the Costco development, she said, and he tried to resolve the issue with Helena.
Both the Bastille and courthouse projects, Sorensen said, were problems he inherited. “If the council doesn’t give direction,” she said. “Nothing gets resolved.
Neither was his tenure as Tulare City Manager free of controversy. He was involved with the failed and Motor sports complex east of the city. Several Tulare city council members criticized Pyle for what they said was not being forthright with information to all council members. Pyle resigned as Tulare City Manager effective November 30, 2010 saying he had achieved all he was capable of in Tulare. He also cited health and family reasons. The council unanimously accepted his resignation.
In Hanford Bob Ramos, a local activist, said at the June 10, 2019 council meeting, “I am pleased Mr. Pyle won’t be here anymore. He didn’t listen to the people.”
Ramos was primarily referring to the 18 undeveloped acres of Hidden Valley Park. Though residents have fought the city’s attempts to sell the property for years, the city administration and the previous council appeared to be on track once again to sell a large portion of the property for a housing development.
Friends of Hidden Valley Park collected more than 2,700 signatures in 2017 to save the park and to have the property rezoned back to public facilities or put the matter on the ballot for a vote of the people.
The city rejected the citizens’ petition based on a technicality. A recent city-sponsored poll affirms public support for keeping the 18 acres. But Sorensen, an advocate to sell the property, rejects the validity of the poll.
Ramos said Pyle, who does not live in Hanford, did not engage the public. He would talk to members of the public if they actively sought him out, Ramos said, but if a matter is not on Pyle’s agenda, he doesn’t like it.
“The council needs to direct the city manager, not the other way around,” said Lou Martinez, another local activist and ex-council member. “The way the council gets direction is by going to the people and finding out what their concerns are.”