The Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) met yesterday to appoint Phyllis Schneider as the interim office manager. This coming after putting office manager Leonor Castaneda on paid leave. Castaneda’s last day will most likely be April 16.
Schneider is the current secretary and has 30 years book keeping experience. She was hired by the district in February of 2020.
Aguilar suggested the board consider hiring former trustee Carlene Ringuis as interim manager. Aguilar said that in September of 2017, office manager Marilyn Correia and head grounds keeper Steve Cunningham disappeared. Correia and Cunningham’s last day of work was September 8 but their resignations were kept secret for almost two weeks. In addition, grounds keeper Jerry Ramos left at the same time on medical leave.
Aguilar said that Ringuis entered the chaos and put in 20 – 25 volunteer hours a week to right the ship.
Visalia Public Cemetery District trustee Geneva Philpot stated earlier on facebook, “Vicki Gilson would be an excellent person to take over the cemetery office temporarily as she has training and accounting background.”
Philpot has served on the Visalia Public Cemetery District for the past 20 years and is known for her expertise in all laws and regulations as they pertain to Public Cemeteries.
There was little discussion though about other prospective candidates and Schneider was appointed by a 4-1 vote with Aguilar voting no.
The board formed an ad hoc committee to research hiring a head hunting firm to help find a new manager. When the time comes, prospective applicants will be able to drop their resumes off at the district office or go through the head hunter.
The TPCD is not ready at this time to accept applicants.
The board voted 5-0 to appoint the current receptionist, Lydia Cervantes, as the interim clerk. The clerk is responsible for taking minutes, making the agendas, and putting together and distributing the agenda packets.
The board also voted to hire M Green and Company to assist the district with payroll and financial reports.
Avila allowed Tulare Activist Alex Guitierrez to make a last comment before going into closed session.
Guiterrez said that the public has a trust issue with the board because Castaneda’s job performance from the beginning should have resulted in her termination. “You didn’t show the judgment or intuition beforehand when the evidence was presented.”
Gutierrez asked how the board could be trusted to hire a qualified candidate this time.
Avila responded, “I am going to defend our record. I’m going to defend Steve. We brought a lot of improvements to the cemetery.” Avila gave such examples of operating the district in the black, upgrades and improvements to the office and grounds, and hiring qualified new staff.
“What recently happened was a huge setback. If you want to judge us on what just happened, that’s your right.”
Gutierrez responded by saying that the “mistrust was built up over the years and this did not just happen.”
He reiterated that the board had to take responsibility for keeping Castaneda in her position as office manager, giving her pay raises, and increasing her vacation while the board was told on multiple occasions about her inability or unwillingness to do her job.
In fact, the double disinterment, the recent event that allegedly lead to Castaneda being put on paid leave, would not have happened if she had been terminated years before.
Gutierrez’ last comment was directed at Avila, “If you had some sincere humility you would just resign.”
“That’s it. We are done,” said Avila.