The Hanford City Council voted for a reorganization at its March 15 meeting, choosing a new mayor and vice mayor.
Councilmember Francisco Ramirez requested a reorganization be put on the agenda during the March 1 council meeting after public outcry over how then-Mayor Dianne Sharp handled an unruly crowd at a town hall concerning low income housing Northstar Courts.
The reorganization ended up a mere trading of seats, with former vice mayor Kalish Morrow voted in as Hanford Mayor and Sharp as vice mayor, leaving most attendees scratching their heads in disbelief.
After the council voted to accept Sharp’s resignation letter, Ramirez nominated Morrow to be mayor. The vote was unanimous in her favor.
Three council members were then nominated to become the new vice-mayor: Councilmember Art Brieno nominated Ramirez, Morrow nominated Councilmember Amanda Saltray and Sharp nominated herself.
When Ramirez was nominated for vice mayor, a member of the audience yelled out, “Excuse me! Uh, uh, no.”
Morrow, who was running the meeting due to Sharp’s resignation, told the audience member that she would be removed if she continued to interrupt the meeting.
“Hell — if I knew he could be vice mayor, I would have gone up there [for public comment,]” the person responded.
Ramirez and Saltray lost their chance of being vice mayor on a 2-3 vote.
Sharp ended up winning the position on a 3-2 vote, with Morrow and Brieno joining Sharp in voting yes.
“If I had known this was going to happen I would have not suggested the reorganization,” said Ramirez.
“This defeats the whole purpose — because when Kalish can’t serve, Dianne will be back as mayor,” he said.
Sharp Criticized over Town Hall on Northstar Courts
Sharp was roundly criticized by the public and council members over how she handled an unruly crowd on February 16 at the town hall held in Hanford’s Civic Auditorium.
Approximately 700 people attended the raucous three hour meeting punctuated by shouts and boos against the Northstar Courts development.
The affordable-housing project is to be built next to the Fargo Crossing Shopping Center in Hanford.
In Sharp’s resignation letter, she defended her handling of the meeting,
“Much has been made of late of the manner in which I have conducted public meetings. I believe I was right to call people out who failed to observe the Council rules of decorum during public sessions. Part of the Mayor job is to enforce the rules. If the Council wishes to change our rules of decorum for operating meetings, we should have that discussion,” she wrote.
Likely seeing the writing on the wall, Sharp preempted any debate about her mayorship by resigning on March 9.
But on the way out the door, she sent out an email message asking her supporters to come to the March 15 meeting in order to voice their support.
Though public comment has been dominated by the subject of Northstar Courts since the project was approved, several people did step up to speak in support of Sharp.
“I know she always picks up the phone for constituents and hears you out in the coffee shop and pays your bill before you know she has even left,” said one commenter.
“If you were blamed and descended on by a mob of angry citizens who did not have the facts do you think you might have reacted in a similar way,” they asked.
Another commenter said, “I find your disagreement with the mayor petty and sad and want to reorganize because someone was doing their job.”
The first commenter added, “we are making our own town a laughing stock.”
A small matter of a censure
At first glance seating Sharp as vice mayor seemed futile, but on further analysis she may have been the council’s only choice.
After Saltray and Ramirez were eliminated, the only two council members left to fill the position were Sharp and Brieno.
The fact that Brieno was censured March 2, 2021 must have weighed heavily on the other council members’ minds. The censure severely restricts Brieno’s capacity as a council member and would impact his ability to fulfill his duties as mayor when circumstances arose.
Brieno was censured March 2 2021 and stripped of his capacity to serve on any committees, talk to staff, or be reimbursed for travel.
The resolution states, “It removes Council Member Brieno from all committees, commissions, and agency appointments presently held by him as a representative of the City Council and the City, and Council Member Brieno shall not serve as a City representative to any committee, commission, or agency until further action is taken by the Council. It denies Council Member Brieno all travel on behalf of the City and rescinds all budget appropriations for such travel. If Council Member Brieno desires to communicate with a City employee other than the City Manager, it directs that all such communication occur through the City Manager.”
Ramirez said he believed that Brieno could technically hold the seat of vice mayor, but in a practical sense, knew Brieno could not perform his duties under the restraints of the censure.
Ty N. Mizote, Hanford’s city lawyer, confirmed Ramirez’s opinion writing in an email, “The censure did not prohibit Mr. Brieno from holding the vice-mayor position.” He added, “the ongoing aspects of the censure will continue until they are terminated or modified by the Council.”