During a Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) special meeting this morning district manager Leonor Castaneda was fired.
In a statement by County Counsel Aaron Zaheen, the TPCD Board decided in a 5-0 vote “to place the manager on paid leave until April 16, 2021 upon which date her termination will be finalized.”
Castaneda will not be working in the office while waiting for her final termination. Trustee Charlie Ramos said that Castaneda had a lot of responsibilities and the extra time will help the current staff with the transition to a new manger in terms of office policies and passwords.
Public outcry over Castaneda’s rude behavior towards grieving families and complaints from board members of incompetency plagued her three and a half year tenure at the district.
Castaneda’s handling of the March 8 double disinterments of Silvano Martinez and Justiniana Sagisi Jacinto was allegedly the final straw. In an alleged attempt to cover up her mistake she ordered a groundskeeper to bury a body in the incorrect grave. Because one of the deceased’s family lived out of town, Castaneda assumed she could cover up her mistake and that she could, “fix the paperwork” as she allegedly told a Brian Viera, a groundskeeper.
When Castaneda’s attempted cover-up was discovered she allegedly put the blame on Viera, who had worked at the cemetery for 13 years. Viera was fired at the end of that day..
Trustee Alberto Aguilar said in a statement given to the rest of the board at the March 25 meeting, “My concerns relative to the issues at hand are as follows: 1) Why was the board kept in the dark about the disinterments that were scheduled to be done at the North J cemetery at 6:00 am? 2) Why did the Martinez family show up at 6:00 am for the disinterment of Silvano Martinez along with Channel 21 Univision? 3) Why were Leonor and Xavier present during the disinterment of the Silvano Martinez and Justiniana Jacinto? 4) Why was the disinterment done without written permission from the Martinez family?”
Since Castaneda has been working at the district there has been an unknown number of disinterments. Attempts to get that information by the public, media, and two trustees has been unsuccessful.
Castaneda was hired in October of 2017 and her lack of competency for the job quickly surfaced. Simple requests concerning the district’s website, flower policy, security cameras, or other decisions taken by the board took months to implement or weren’t implemented at all.
During past meetings, the Cemetery’s board was split 3-2 on their assessment of Castaneda’s job performance. Former Trustee Vicki Gilson and Aguilar would broach the subject during meetings but were quickly shot down by Trustee Xavier Avila. Aguilar was cut off by Avila at the March 25 meeting when he tried to voice concern about mistakes in the financial reports and incomplete agenda packets.
Caring Cause, a facebook page set up to improve the district, was the frequent target of withering criticism and accused of “spewing vitriol” when the members tried to hold Castaneda accountable for her inappropriate behavior and lack of skills.
Avila, Trustee Steve Presant and Trustee Jim Pennington over the years approved of pay raises and increased vacation time for Castaneda despite being informed of her continual performance problems. Presant at one meeting went as far to declare Castaneda “the CEO of Tulare Public Cemetery District.”
When asked how she felt about Castaneda finally being let go Gilson said, “I feel vindicated.”
A special board meeting tomorrow at the TPCD office has been called to discuss the hiring of a new district manager.