Steve Harrell–a Tulare native son and the former second in command at the Tulare Police Department–is throwing his hat into the ring for the District 3 seat on the Tulare City Council.
The seat is currently held by embattled Councilman Carlton Jones, who has been the focus of repeated claims against the city by members of its staff regarding Jones’ behavior. Most recently, the council agreed to settle two claims involving Jones and a pair of members of the TPD for $84,000.
Harrell to Stay on Hospital Board
Harrell, who holds a seat on the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) Board of Directors, says he feels compelled to run for a seat on the council to add a mature and reasonable voice to what he says is largely a cacophony at present.
“People need to know their representatives are going to do the right thing,” he said. “And, that’s what it’s all about, doing the right thing.”
When Harrell made the decision to run for council while retaining his seat on the hospital board, he wrote to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) asking for assurance there would be no conflict of interest if he holds both seats.
The only area of “overlapping responsibilities” was the loan made by the city to the TLHCD. That loan has since been repaid.
“Now that we’ve repaid that loan, I don’t see anything that would be a conflict,” Harrell said. “It could arise, and if it’s necessary, I’ll recuse myself.”
Why He’s Running
When Harrell queried the FPPC, he received a single question from the reviewer, and it speaks to his reasoning for seeking a council seat.
“She said, ‘I only have one question,’ and I thought it was going to be more information,” Harrell said. “And she said, ‘Why would you do both?’”
He says he feels forced to run.
“It wasn’t my idea,” he said. “These things that are happening on the city council were just more and more embarrassing. It was costing more and more money. This has got to stop. I’m going to see if I can make a difference.”
Willing to Listen
A lack of cooperation between members of the council paired with what Harrell says is an unwillingness to listen to the opinions of others is damaging the city.
“You’ve seen the disrespect, the outright hostility between council members, also directed toward citizens,” he said. “It just goes on and on. You can’t run a city like that. You have to be willing to listen to each other and get past your differences.”
Harrell, a veteran of the Air Force, moved to the TPD from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office in 1970. He became a sergeant in 1980 and a lieutenant in 1991, and was acting commander of the department at the time of his retirement. The leadership style he learned then, he says, will serve him well now.
“When I was on the police force, I never said anyone works for me. They work with me,” he said. “I think the people on the council have forgotten that.”
Communication, Trust Are Key
As a second generation resident of Tulare, Harrell says he recalls a time when the operation of the city was far smoother than it has been in many years. Since then, something has been lost.
“I can remember how it was when I was a kid, and we’re never going to go back to that, but we need to, have to be able to talk together,” he said.
Trust is one of the elements currently lacking, Harrell believes.
“I just want to be able to give people the opportunity to have confidence in their elected official,” he said. “That they can trust they have someone they can talk to who will listen.”
The job of a city councilmember, he said, is to gather as many people as possible about issues to gather as many perspectives as possible.
“You should have plenty of time to go out and meet with people and learn,” he said. “I’m going to tell people I’ll be here at a certain time under the shade tree if you want to talk.”
He also intends to maintain a strong presence on social media, though he favors face-to-face interaction.
“I like that personal touch,” he said. “I want to be able to sit down with people and ask them, ‘What do you see? What do you want to do? Will you help me get this done for the city of Tulare?’”
Also up for reelection on the November 3 ballot are Mayor Jose Sigala (District 1) and Councilman Greg Nunley (District 5). Running against Sigala is Clara L. Bernardo. Courtney C. Oliver, Grady Dodson, Mario Flores and Patrick Isherwood are all seeking to unseat Nunley.