To comply with state and local stay at home orders, every public meeting in Tulare County has been held online or canceled. Smaller public boards such as irrigation districts or cemeteries are only required to meet once a quarter and many of those have rescheduled their meetings to June.
Not the Tulare Public Cemetery District.
Despite the stay at home order, and the fact that four of the five Tulare Public Cemetery Board members are over 65, Board Chair Steve Presant wants to have an in-person meeting Thursday, April 23, at 1pm.
As of this posting, Tulare County tops the region with 22 deaths and has 436 confirmed cases of Coronavirus.
Cemetery board member Vicki Gilson raised concerns last week when Presant scheduled an unnecessary in-person Audit Committee meeting that took place April 15 in the cemetery office. She informed Presant that meeting in person endangers the health of the community and that “Due to the corona-virus situation, I am unable to attend.” Gilson also emailed Presant requesting that any future meetings be held through Zoom.
She and her husband are 73 years old and he has a suppressed immune system. No accommodations were made for those who could not make the Audit Committee meeting due to COVID -19.
Yesterday Presant posted the April 23 general meeting agenda on the cemetery’s website.
On the agenda it states, “Due to the covid-19 Tulare Public Cemetery will be spacing seats 6 feet apart. Please feel free to wear your own mask and/or gloves.”
Later that day office manager Leonor Castaneda emailed the cemetery board members,
“Enclosed is your board packet for the upcoming meeting. ………Stay Healthy & Safe, Leonor”
Because of the cramped meeting space, which is a shed behind the office, only four members of the public were allowed to attend the audit meeting.
Presant said that, for the general meeting, they are holding it outside next to the employee parking lot where there is shade and spacing the chairs six feet apart so as many people who want to attend can. He is expecting at least three board members to show, making a quorum.
“I hope we have a productive meeting and hope that lots of people show up.”
Presant said that they talked to County Council about how to hold the meetings. County Council advised them that if the board meets in person they have to make accommodations so the public can attend also.
“We decided to do the meeting in person because we do not have the staffing or audio-conferencing abilities to include the board and also the public.”
When asked what Gilson should do if she does not feel safe attending the meeting Presant said, “She can sit six feet apart and wear protective gear. It is suggested on the agenda.”
Chair Person Alberto Aguilar does not agree with meeting in-person and emailed Presant,
“Since you are refusing to cancel the scheduled board meeting for the Tulare Public Cemetery District scheduled for Thursday, April 23, 2020, at 1:00 pm, at the cemetery district office, and whereas the cemetery district office does not have the proper space and/or necessary equipment to allow the public to participate during the meeting, and whereas you are not responding to the request by board members to cancel or reschedule the meeting so as to permit the public to participate, I am recommending for the public to contact the district office and the governor’s office. I have provided all Trustees of the Board with a copy of Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-25-20, dated March 12, 2020, which you are violating by insisting on having your “Secret Board Meeting.”
Gilson added, “There is nothing on the agenda that cannot wait…. the California Special District Association, to which our Cemetery belongs, has advised several ways to conduct remote meetings – certain Brown Act provisions have been suspended in order to facilitate – so I really had the foolish hope that our Cemetery would comply.”
Presant has not responded to either Gilson or Aguilar.
Geneva Philpot is a 20-year plus Trustee of the Visalia Public Cemetery and reported that the Visalia Cemetery had its April meeting via conference call and plans to do the same for May. She said in an email, “Getting together is dangerous and Tulare County has 426 cases and 20 deaths, this is to be taken seriously, and it not just old folks either the 40 + have quite a few with cases.”
The April 23 meeting will be making significant financial decisions such as the hiring of two new grounds keepers and discussing pay raises for the manager and foreperson.
Gilson said that Tulare Public Cemetery is not only raising salaries and hiring additional staff but their nine month financials show an operating deficit. “Presant has grandiose plans of a facelift to the present office and exploring a new building. This is not reality.”
“There are really only 2 choices for the Chair to make – cancel the meeting or Zoom,” said Gilson.