Harrell resigns from Tulare utilities board following arrest

Chris Harrell, a prominent Tulare civic leader accused of soliciting sex with a minor via the internet, has resigned his position as president of the Tulare Board of Public Utilities (TBPU).

Last Minute Resignation

Harrell submitted his letter of resignation at noon on Friday, October 8, three hours before a special meeting of the Tulare City Council (TCC) that was called to consider removing him from the post. Mayor Jose Sigala demanded Harrell resign a day earlier, describing his alleged behavior as “putting our children at risk.”

In his letter to the council, Harrell said his decision to leave the board was intended to protect the remaining board members and employees of the Public Works Department from “unwarranted distractions” caused by fallout from his arrest over the previous weekend. Harrell was taken into custody along with 12 other men when they reportedly arrived at a decoy location in order to engage in sex with minors they met online. The sting was conducted by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.

Harrell is the former executive director of the Tulare Historical Museum. He also served on the boards of the Tulare Methodist Church and the Tulare Masonic Temple Association, as well as seeking a seat on the Tulare City Council in 2018.

TBPU Controversies Continue

Sigala was happy the city, which has been plagued by controversy in recent years, was able to avoid yet another unpleasant situation.

“I’m glad that’s occurred. I pressed him to do so,” Sigala said of Harrell’s resignation. “It’ll allow our Board of Public Utilities to move forward.”

Harrell was appointed to the TBPU in 2018 and became president in 2019 following the sudden resignation of former president Jim Pennington, who left the position in protest over the behavior of staff at City Hall. In 2017, three of the TBPU’s five members resigned following the removal of the other two by the city council during the negotiation of a multi-year, multi-million-dollar energy generation contract.

Members of the TBPU are nominated by the mayor and ratified by the entire council.

Damaging Political Leverage

In his letter of resignation, Harrell referred to “certain politicians” using his arrest “to damage other people who are not connected in any way to my current situation.”

While it is not clear who Harrell was referring to, his father, Steve Harrell, is running against Carlton Jones in the race for the TCC District 3 seat. The elder Harrell, who is also a trustee for the Tulare Local Health Care District, said his son’s arrest should not affect his own race.

The younger Harrell attempted to shame anyone who uses his arrest for political gain, calling it a “disgrace.” Nowhere in the letter did Harrell admit to wrongdoing or apologize for his alleged behavior and subsequent arrest, at times using language that distanced himself from events.

“It is important for me to express my deep sadness for those persons who are suffering the unwarranted attacks as related to these circumstances,” he wrote. “I hope and pray that in the end, rational people will be able to see through the unconscionable political plays in which certain particular individuals are engaged.”

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