In a shocking move Councilman Art Brieno, under fire for comments he allegedly made about Darlene Mata, Hanford Community Development Director, resigned Tuesday night. Hanford was holding a continuation of their special meeting that started Friday night.
Brieno’s resignation leaves more questions than answers about what happened and why.
“It’s a very difficult time,” he told the sparsely attended council chamber audience. “I’ve lost a lot of business. I’ve come to the conclusion (it’s in) best interest of the city to resign. The last thing I want is continued litigation with the city.”
City Attorney Bob Dowd was also at the meeting, a rare event.
Brieno, representing District E that includes much of South Hanford, did not attend tonight’s 50-minute closed session described in the agenda as “potential litigation.” The closed session occurred prior to his announcement. During the closed session Brieno conferred with his attorney Steve Dias.
After the meeting Brieno told the Valley Voice that he didn’t have the money to fight a lawsuit and didn’t have the votes on the council to prevent it.
Brieno was known as the council member to ask the critical questions during public hearings or presentations by city staff. While other council members often went along with staff recommendations Brieno asked city staff tough questions or has disagreed with them.
Attending the closed session were Mayor Francisco Ramirez, a political ally, vice mayor Diane Sharp and council members Kalish Morrow and John Draxler.
Ramirez brushed aside a reporter’s question about whether anything was decided in the closed meeting. He referred questions to City Attorney Ty Mizote.
“The matter is not over,” said Mizote. There is “…nothing to report. Any action taken will be at a further meeting.”
During public comment following the closed session local activist Bob Ramos said he didn’t know what the issue was and this was hurtful to the community. He said both Mata , City Manager Mario Cifuentez and Dowd should be fired.
“Something is very wrong here,” he said.
On January 22 the council held a special meeting to conduct “discussion and action on Council Member misconduct,” a reference to Council Member Art Brieno.
After 43 minutes of discussion in closed session Mizote announced that the meeting would be continued until today, Tuesday January 26 at 4 pm.
Also attending the January 22 meeting were Dowd of the Lasalle Griswold law firm that represents the city. Mizote is a member of that law firm. Cifuentez was also in attendance as was Rachele Berglund an attorney with Herr Pedersen Berglund, the law firm, according to an unnamed reliable source, that is representing Mata. 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.
The catalyst of the alleged suit brought by Mata against Brieno appears to be a dispute over regulating a popular auto repair business in Hanford.
The city attempted in July 2020 to revoke the operating permit of the Hanford auto repair business owned by Richard Aguilar at 330 East 7th Street. Brieno and Ramirez 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. Allegedly, as a result of the investigation, Brieno is being accused of saying something improper about Mata precipitating a lawsuit that prompted Brieno’s resignation.