In a letter dated July 3, Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) Trustee Vicki Gilson notified Board Chair Steve Presant her intentions of filing a civil lawsuit “through the Tulare County Superior Court Civil Division for an unspecified amount of damages.”
In a statement to the Valley Voice, Presant said that he had not yet received Gilson’s letter threatening a lawsuit. Because of possible litigation Presant said he did not want to comment.
Gilson’s letter was a follow-up to a June 24 Cease and Desist Order sent to Presant from Gilson’s lawyer, Eric Priedkalns of the Parker-Stanbury Law Firm. In it her lawyer states, “Ms. Gilson has authorized us to demand you cease and desist from coming onto her property or taking any picture of the property.”
Presant admitted on video during the May 23 meeting that he had in fact entered Gilson’s property. He stated he did so to prove that she had abandoned her residence in Tulare. Presant also claims that Gilson has missed three consecutive meetings, meaning she has vacated her seat.
To prove that Gilson and her husband had moved Presant paid a visit to her residence. During his visit he parked in her driveway, walked across her lawn, looked into her windows, turned on her water faucet, and took pictures of her property. He also knocked on her neighbor’s door, identified himself as a friend, and inquired of Gilson’s whereabouts.
Even though he lives across town and is not affected by Gilson’s property, he then reported her allegedly overgrown yard to Tulare Code Enforcement.
In Gilson’s letter threatening to sue she states, “Not only did you make public statements regarding the condition of my property, you defamed me by stating that I had abandoned the property and left the state….. Because of your statements, I was further subjected to persons driving by my property to “see for themselves.”
“I do not know what your motivation was, or is, but you have caused irreparable harm.”
When asked if she had moved out of state Gilson replied, “Like many retired American couples, we have more than one home. In fact we also have a 5th wheel in Northern California that we utilize from time to time.”
“Notice of Meeting of Board to Consider Declaring a Vacancy in Your Office”
According to California Government Code 1770, “An office becomes vacant on the happening of any of the following events before the expiration of the term: (e) His or her ceasing to be an inhabitant of the state,…. (g) His or her ceasing to discharge the duties of his or her office for the period of three consecutive months, except when prevented by sickness, or when absent from the state with the permission required by law.”
In a certified letter from Presant sent to her Tulare home, and received by Gilson, it states, “From all available information, it appears that one or both of these circumstances apply to you.”
Presant continued, “Prior to the May 28, 2020, Board Meeting by teleconference, the last meeting of the Board you attended was on December 18, 2019. You made no attempt to contact District staff, myself as the Board Chair, or other the Board Members to offer any explanation for your absences. There has been no other communication from you, and to my knowledge you have completely failed to discharge the duties of a Trustee since December 31, 2019, up to May 28, 2020.”
To address these issues a special meeting was called on July 9 to vote on removing Gilson from her seat.
In preparation for the special meeting, Board Trustee Alberto Aguilar submitted a document to be included in the agenda packet vehemently disagreeing with Presant’s accusations.
Aguilar responded, “Chairman Presant, your statement is a bold-face lie aimed to harm the reputation, character, and dignity of Trustee Vicki Gilson.”
In his document Aguilar lists four meetings allegedly attended by Gilson before May 28, 2020: January 23 Gilson and Aguilar met with CPA Mary Quillen at the district office, a Special District Training on February 27, and two Special Board Meetings on May 8 and 15.
Concerning the regular scheduled meetings, the dates were changed multiple times for the first three months of 2020. (The Brown Act mandates that regularly scheduled public meeting dates not be changed unless there is an emergency. Frequently changing the date limits accessibility and makes it difficult for the public, media, and Directors to attend.)
The January 23 meeting was canceled and moved to January 30. The February 27th meeting was rescheduled to March 5, then at the last minute rescheduled to March 6, because Trustee Xavier Avila had a conflict. Gilson advised Presant that she had a conflict March 6.
The March 26 meeting was canceled due to COVID.
The April 23 regular meeting was the first not to be changed, and was coincidentally the third meeting missed by Gilson which could initiate the process to vacate her seat.
The April 23 in-person meeting was attended by 12 mostly unmasked people in the middle of California’s Shelter in Place Order and was a violation of the state mandate. Out of concerns for their personal safety Gilson, Aguilar and members of the public requested the TPCD hold the meeting remotely by telephone or zoom.
In addition, arrangements were initially made for the district’s auditor to participate by phone. In response, Gilson and Aguilar requested the same accommodation be made for them. By the day of the meeting Office Manager Leonor Casteneda reported that the auditor would no longer be participating by phone.
Ironically the same virus that canceled the March 26 meeting, and prevented Gilson from attending in April, was the same reason the July 9 meeting was canceled. On July 7 an employee of the cemetery district tested positive and the Tulare County Health Department asked the district to close until everyone could be tested.
When the meeting is rescheduled the board can declare Gilson’s position vacant and request that Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel appoint a new director to serve out her term.
Presant did give Gilson a quick fix to the situation.
“You can, of course, file a written resignation at any time with me and if you do it will not be necessary for the board to take action declaring a vacancy. Thank you for your cooperation.”