Hanford City Council held a special meeting Friday night on 24 hours notice to conduct “discussion and action on Council Member misconduct,” a reference to Council Member Art Brieno.
After 43 minutes of discussion in closed session City Attorney Ty Mizote announced that the meeting will be continued on Tuesday January 26 at 4 pm.
Brieno, the subject of the meeting, was absent from the council chamber which included the four other council members: Mayor Francisco Ramirez, Vice Mayor Diane Sharp, Council Members John Draxler and Kalish Morrow.
City Clerk Natalie Ortega said notice of the meeting was posted 24 hours in advance on the city’s website on Thursday at 5:30 pm. She also said it was posted on the bulletin board outside city hall.
The meeting notice could be a possible violation of the Brown Act since Valley Voice and Hanford-Lemoore Future newspaper in Hanford were not notified by the city. The Valley Voice is routinely notified of Hanford’s City Council meetings and sent their agendas. A reporter from the Hanford Sentinel also attended the meeting but it is not know at this time whether the Sentinel was notified in advance of the meeting.
Also attending the meeting were Bob Dowd of the Lasalle Griswold law firm that represents the city. Mizote is a member of that law firm. City Manager Mario Cifuentez was also in attendance as was Rachele Berglund an attorney with Herr Pedersen Berglund. According to an unnamed reliable source she is representing Hanford Community Development Director Darlene Mata, the employee leveling the improper conduct charges against Brieno.
Berglund spoke at the meeting during the public comment period but refused to disclose who she was representing.
She said it was “shameful” that a serious matter was discussed with 24-hour notice on a Friday night. She also complained that the meeting was not live-streamed.
Mizote said potential litigation against the city pertaining to 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 possible suit against Brieno follows attempts by the city in July 2020 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. 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.