City of Hanford could face lawsuit over employee’s allegation

This article was updated 1/22/21

Hanford City Council is facing possible litigation over a city department head’s publicly unspecified charges that a city council member acted improperly toward her.

The department head is long-time community development director Darlene R. Mata, according to a reliable unnamed source.

City Attorney Ty Mizote said potential litigation against the city pertaining to Councilman Art Brieno was discussed during closed session on January 19 but nothing was resolved. When the matter is decided, he said, it will be announced publicly.  State open meeting laws allow city councils to privately discuss pending litigation. However, councils are required to disclose the topic of the litigation.

The issue is believed to be related to a July 7 hearing during which Mata sought to revoke the operating permit of a popular Hanford auto repair business owned by Richard Aguilar at 330 East 7th Street, according to the source.

Mata, representing her department’s staff, said Aguilar was out of compliance with various regulations and presented evidence to support her claim. City Manager Mario Cifuentez said during the meeting that he was required to bring Aguilar revocation to the council’s attention.

More than six people spoke during the public comment period to defend Aguilar. Some of them stated he had helped people in Hanford by offering lenient terms to do auto repairs.

Brieno and Councilman Francisco Ramirez, who is now mayor, resisted the community development department’s recommendations though Councilman Sue Sorensen backed them. The council then agreed with Brieno and Ramirez to give Aguilar more time to comply with the regulations.

This was an administrative defeat for the city administration and a political embarrassment.

Following the hearing concerning Aguilar’s auto repair shop Mata hired an attorney to conduct an investigation. It is not clear why Mata started the investigation.  As a result of the investigation Brieno is being accused of saying something improper about Mata.

Rachele Berglund, an attorney in Hanford, is working on the Brieno case involving charges brought by the employee, said Kris B. Pedersen, an attorney at the firm. She said she would email Berglund regarding the request for comment. Berglund did not respond to Valley Voice.

Ty N. Mizote, Hanford city attorney from GRISWOLD, LaSALLE, COBB,  DOWD & GIN, L.L.P., responds to article,

“You (Pratter) approached me after the January 19 Council meeting and offered an unsolicited statement regarding closed session and Council Member Brieno.  When you mentioned the matter, I thought you were referring to the Council’s January 12 meeting.  I informed you that the Council had met in closed session to discuss potential litigation associated with a claim that had been filed.  I specifically used the words “a claim” during our brief conversation.  I did not say that the closed session involved Council Member Brieno.  I also did not inform you that the discussion regarding potential litigation occurred on January 19.  I did, however, indicate that, if the Council takes action on the potential litigation matter in closed session in the future, such action will be reported out by the Council.

The statement attributed to me in your article is false and I demand that it be retracted immediately.”

The reporter responds: “Ty Mizote did not make any statement that the matter was about something else other than Art Brieno. Further, Mizote did not make reference to any dates during the conversation. Clearly the matter being discussed in the conversation was about January 19.  Potential litigation is another way of saying a possible lawsuit.”

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