Rumors fly, concerns mount over canceled Tulare Public Cemetery District meetings

Groundskeepers work furiously after multiple complaints about the condition of the cemetery. Even though the budget has doubled since 2017 locals say the grounds look worse.

Public concern has been building over the unexpected cancelation of the March and April Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) meetings.

Contributing to the mystery is the questions over who exactly canceled the meetings and why they were canceled.

With no concrete explanations wild speculation has been brewing as to what is going on in the district.

TCPD Board Chair Xavier Avila was limited in what he could say when asked why there have been no meetings for the last two months.

“We are working through some legal issues,” he said.

Who canceled the meetings?

To add to the confusion members of the community were initially told that Tulare County Counsel, which provides legal services to the district, canceled the meeting.

Avila clarified that county counsel strongly advised the board to cancel the March and April regular meetings and those months’ audit committee meetings.

“So, I canceled the meetings,” Avila said.

The Valley Voice asked Tulare County Counsel lawyer Matthew Pierce why he advised the district to cancel the meetings. After stammering for a good 20 seconds he said, “I have no knowledge of it.”

Pierce then added that he isn’t the only County Counsel lawyer involved with the cemetery.

When asked who would know why the meetings were canceled he advised the Voice call the district office then said, “I absolutely have no comment.”

TPCD Administrative Assistant for the district office, Lydia Cervantes, said she did not know why the meetings were canceled.

“We were told by the chair,” she said.

The public may never know why

“We didn’t just cancel the meeting on a whim,” Avila said.

He said that usually a meeting is canceled because some trustees can’t make it on a particular day and the chair will reschedule.

But in the last few months Avila said the district had “issues we got to deal with,” and that they were “waiting on things.”

When asked what issues, Avila said, “I can’t answer that question.”

Former TPCD trustee and current member of the district’s verification committee, Alberto Aguilar, said he heard similar reasons as to why the meetings were canceled.

“Xavier told me that some investigation was going on and that the county was looking into something,” said Aguilar.

Aguilar believes the investigation to which Avila is referring stems from a November 3, 2023 TCPD closed session special meeting.

The agenda stated, “…to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance. Discipline, or dismissal of a public employee or to hear complaints or chares (sic) brought against the employee by another person or employee unless the employee requests a public session.”

The other item on the November 3 closed session agenda was, “Significant exposure to litigation. (One Potential Case)”

The board made a short statement after the special meeting. The minutes stated,  “Chairman Ramos reported the District decided to hire the Jet (sic) Team from Tulare County to lead our investigation and approved up to $3,500 from the contingency fund to cover legal services if needed.”

Aguilar said, “I can almost say for certain this investigation is the reason why the meetings have been canceled.”

What is JEHT?

The Justice, Employment & Health Team (JEHT) is one of five teams that make up the Tulare County Counsel. According to County Counsel’s website,

“The Justice, Employment & Health Team (JEHT) consists of the Chief Deputy, Diana L. Mendez, four Deputy County Counsels, one Legal Support Services Specialist, and two Paralegals, assisted by members of the Administrative Team.  JEHT provides advice relating to all aspects of labor and employment issues and provides basic government and transactional legal services to the Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA), the Human Resources & Development Department, Risk Management, and the justice departments (District Attorney, Department of Child Support Services, Probation, Public Defender & Sheriff’s Departments).  This team works closely with the Risk Management Team on employment-related issues such as workers’ compensation and medical accommodations.”

Public Information Officer for the Tulare County District Attorney, Stuart Anderson, was not familiar with JEHT and couldn’t give an example of when the DA’s office had ever worked with the team even though the DA is listed as one of their clients.

Aguilar hypothesized that the investigation conducted by JEHT was similar to the Harvey Demp lawsuit.

Demp is a former TPCD groundskeeper and is suing the district for discrimination and wrongful termination.

But Eric Oren, Demp’s lawyer, said he was unaware of district meetings being canceled.

Oren said the cancelations didn’t have anything to do with Demp’s case.

He added that his client’s case has been moving slowly because “It has been difficult” to get depositions from former employee David Faria and district manager Clara Bernardo.

“It’s been a little bit frustrating,” said Oren.

Aguilar said that back in November, the district was looking into hiring a private investigator. But County Counsel advised the TPCD board to hire JEHT because the district already had a contract with them.

“No way this investigation should have taken this long without concluding or at least reporting back to the board their progress in the case. This investigation could have been done in a month,” Aguilar said.

In retrospect, Aguilar said the district should have hired a private neutral party.

“We have paid for a service and haven’t even received a report. Five months – unbelievable.”

There will be a meeting in May

Avila said that the next meeting is scheduled for May 23 but may be the following week depending on the trustee’s schedules.

He said that it is more than likely that the board will not be able to comment on what is going on.

“It will be resolved but we may never be able to talk about it,” said Avila.

2 thoughts on “Rumors fly, concerns mount over canceled Tulare Public Cemetery District meetings

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  1. And the plot thickens! Can’t wait to read the next chapter. To be continued. 🙂

  2. It must be killing Avila to keep his mouth shut and worrying him to death about if these secrets will be buried in the right grave or will get dug up later.

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