Three of the five Tulare City Council (TCC) seats–those belonging to the body’s most controversial members–are up for grabs on the November 3 ballot.
Turn-out should be unusually high for the fall election, and not just because it will coincide with the national presidential election. During the last five years, controversy has almost constantly surrounded two of the three incumbents, often raising the ire of their constituents. Their antics have also apparently pushed half a dozen candidates hard enough to cause them to throw their hats into the political ring.
Most recently, Carlton Jones has been the focus of turmoil, as he contested the council’s decision to pay off claims from five members of the Tulare Police Department (TPD) who had threatened to sue the city following the release of confidential information about them by Jones. But, only one of the challengers, Steve Harrell, is seeking to unseat him. Harrell is a former member of the TPD and is also a current member of the Tulare Local Health Care District’s board of directors.
The pair are seeking Jones’ District 3 seat.
Nunley in the Crosshairs
The bulk of the newcomers, four in all, have entered the race against District 5 Councilman Greg Nunley.
Seeking to take the seat away from the incumbent are Grady Dodson, a healthcare administer, Mario Flores, an educator and pastor, Patrick Isherwood, an asset manager for Self-Help Enterprises, and Courtney C. Oliver. In their campaign literature and in their social media postings, two of the three have specifically cited infighting between members of the council, as well as other scandals, as motivation for seeking the District 5 seat.
Nunley has also been a constant center of controversy during his tenure on the council during his first term of office. In fact, Nunley’s problems with city hall appear to have started before he was elected. In 2014, the city’s attorney was asked to send a letter to Nunley regarding his “inappropriate interactions with city staff” in regard to his work as a real estate developer, according to a report stemming from an investigation into alleged poor treatment of workers at city hall, including threatening the jobs of high-level employees.
Nunley’s $16.5 Million Demand
The report resulting from the independent investigation into Nunley’s behavior resulted in a private citizen suing Nunley as an individual for his alleged abuse of power, claiming he used his influence on the council as leverage against city employees in an effort to benefit himself and his business ventures. Fact-finding that took place as a result of that lawsuit revealed Nunley had allegedly defrauded the city, filing bogus documents claiming he owned land belonging to his business partners in order to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in development impact fees.
When the allegations of Nunley’s supposed wrongdoing were made public, the councilman responded by filing a claim against the city for $16.5 million and demanded a written apology for what he said was the city’s attempt to ruin his reputation and harm him financially.
Nunley’s Further Adventures
When the city rejected Nunley’s claim, he filed a pair of lawsuits against the city. The first repeated the demands made in his multimillion-dollar claim. The second suit demanded the release of a second investigator’s report–this one into the conduct of Jones and his allegedly hostile interactions with yet another member of the TPD. Nunley eventually dropped the defamation suit.
His second suit was successful, forcing the city to release the second report, one that, according to the city’s legal counsel, showed the extent to which Jones has exposed the city to possible legal action resulting from his behavior.
During this time, Nunley was also cited by the Visalia Police Department for reckless driving. The VPD report of the incident alleged Nunley was driving an unregistered vehicle without a driver’s license and proof of insurance. It was also during this period a home owned by Nunley burned.
Mayor Faces Single Challenger
Perhaps the quietest race running is that for the District 1 seat currently held by Mayor Jose Sigala.
Opposing Sigala on the ballot as he seeks his second term is Clara Bernardo, a lifelong Tulare resident. Bernardo is also running on a platform of uniting the council. While Sigala has not been a figure of controversy, like Jones and Nunley, he has often been the focus of Jones’ ire and has argued publicly with Jones on several occasions.
In 2016, the year he joined the TCC, Sigala ran an unsuccessful campaign for State Assembly. Sigala, who works as a union organizer, has also discussed a possible future run for a county supervisor seat.
Balloting for the trio of Tulare City Council seats will be held during the general election scheduled for Tuesday, November 3.