The Shafter Press - Serving the community since 1922

By Jamie Stewart
The Shafter Press 

Council tells of concerns

Residents are vocal after Hurlbert's exit

 

August 22, 2019 | View PDF

Members of the City Council gave their visions for the future and their concerns Tuesday night, and residents made their concerns known, too, at the City Council's first meeting following the separation of City Manager Scott Hurlbert.

Manuel Garcia told the crowd in the council chambers that they were asked at the last meeting what their goals were, and he said that he wanted to see the city "prosper and be great."

Garcia commended Michael James and the Public Works Department for their hard work what they have done improving road conditions and alleys. He also said that he would like to see more work done in making the city look beautiful again. Garcia gave an example of the area across from the Generals Headquarters, the longtime drive-in on Lerdo Highway, "There are tumbleweeds six feet high, it should never have gotten that bad. We need to have those kinds of eyesores cleaned up."

Garcia also said that more can be done in the parks, such as additional courts for basketball and tennis, making quality of life better for the residents.

In reference to the search for answers the public has when it comes to the departure of City Manager Scott Hurlbert, Garcia told of his son who is a baseball player in college. He said that his son asked him why he was chosen when there were more pitchers who had put in more innings than him, and he told him that he just needed to be the best he could be and be his own man. Garcia then said, "Maybe Scott just decided to retire."

Mayor Pro Tem Cesar Lopez used his time to apologize for any remarks he made that offended anyone and anything he might have done. "I apologize for my actions and I want to own them when I make a mistake." Lopez then said that he would like to work with community members in deciding what is needed in the city and would be in favor of a community workshop or group that would work together to move forward and better the city.

"I have raised my kids here and look forward to my daughter moving back here after school and following in our family's footsteps in law enforcement and living here in Shafter."

He went on to say that he wants to do what is best for the city and that he does not like making speeches or the politics of the position. "I got in this to help the city and make a difference. I have learned that things move a lot slower than I thought they would. I hate the politics of it, I think it is an evil part of the job." Lopez then said that he is looking forward to working with the community.

Lopez did mention that public safety was a big concern of his and said that he thinks the chief and his staff are doing a great job but there could be more of a presence in the city. "We just need more to be done in public safety."

Mayor Gilbert Alvarado was less specific.

"I think all of you have already made up your mind what my agenda is, so I probably won't be able to change your mind."

Alvarado went on to say, "I have known a lot of you for a long time and you know me. You know my kids, my wife. I loved raising my family here, and I just want to be able to have my kids' children be able to grow up in the city that I have loved for so long."

He then said that he does have concerns about how fast the city is developing and growing while the core city of Shafter seems to be forgotten sometimes. "I don't want to have our core city left behind or neglected. The entire city needs to be taken care of, which includes all of the areas of the city."

He also agreed that there should be involvement between the city and the residents working together to keep Shafter great.

The comments followed the public comment portion of the meeting, which saw another lineup of impassioned residents wanting answers when it comes to what the city has on its agenda and why they have done some of the things they have done recently, such as the separation of City Manager Scott Hurlbert.

Eli Espericueta, a former council member, said, "We know by looking at the contract that was signed by you guys that Scott would not get any severance or compensation if he quit voluntarily, so we know what happened" – implying that he was forced out of his job. Marco Martinez, the city attorney, addressed the question of why Hurlbert resigned: "As for the departure, the separation agreement is public record and agreed to by both parties. As for the reasons for the parting, they will not be discussed because they are personnel matters."

Christine Wilson shocked some of the crowd when she read a post that was on Mayor Pro Tem Lopez's Facebook page, in which he comments on the state of the city and intimated that a big reason for the division right now is because of race. She read: "For years, they did what they wanted and they were fine with it. Now, there are some people that are not happy because they have lost the power. They don't have the power anymore and they don't like it."

Lopez also said in the post that for years a portion of the community were ignored, but now, with the new leadership, things are getting done. He also said that a lot of the problems people have with it are racially motivated.

Long-time educator Arlie Smith said that he had to speak up as he watched three of the members "abuse their power" on the council. "We wondered what your hidden agenda was, and now we know what some of it is. I have known you guys a long time and I am ashamed for you right now."

"What you guys are doing is creating a voting block and doing whatever you want, no matter what the city wants. And that is what it is, a voting block that you have created."

Regular business still went on at the meeting, with an extended discussion about allowing an evening event at a local restaurant.

A special permit was denied that was submitted by Don Pepe's restaurant. They had applied for a special event permit for an event that was to be held on Friday night that included a live band. A couple of things on the application were in outside the special event criteria. One was the use of a fixed stage, which is not allowed. It also was pointed out that they could be in jeopardy when it came to their business license because the event would bar minors from entering the establishment.

It was reported that there had been events in the past there, and there had been security issues, a couple of them resulting in the need for police presence. Chief Kevin Zimmermann said that on one occasion there were people attempting to assault his officers and another incident where there had been shots fired down the street from the event, causing the officers to search a vehicle and recover weapons from it.

Councilmember Cathy Prout said that she had a problem with the establishment not being able to control the event and the people who would attend amid the flow of alcohol. "They have had trouble controlling the situation in the past. Do we really want to give them another chance and risk our officers' safety, as well as the safety of those attending?"

Garcia said that he would want to give them another chance, after Zimmermann recommended that if the event allowed, that there should be additional security guards on site and also that someone from the event would let the Police Department know when the event was winding down so they could make a presence there, hopefully to deter any potential problems.

It was decided at the end that they would deny the application for the permit, saying that the owners needed to obtain a conditional use permit and should have gone through the proper channels in a more timely manner. The vote to deny the application was 4-1, with Garcia the lone vote in favor of the application.

 

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