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City council terminates longtime attorney

City council terminates longtime attorney

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SELMA — For the second time in three years, the contract of longtime Selma City Attorney Neal Costanzo has been terminated.
 
At a special meeting of the City Council on Thursday, Jan. 14, Costanzo was removed from his post by a vote of 3-2.
 
Council member John Trujillo made the motion to terminate Costanzo with Mayor Pro Tempore Beverly Cho giving the second. Council member Bianca Mendoza-Navarro gave the other yes vote while Mayor Scott Robertson and Council member Sarah Guerra voted no.
 
The vote followed about 85 minutes of testimony from Costanzo and five citizens, including former council person Jim Avalos, who was mayor when Costanzo was terminated the first time about 31 months ago.
 
No reason for the 2021 removal was given.
 
This decision left city officials scrambling to find an acting city attorney to be at the next council meeting on Jan. 19, moved up a night to avoid the Monday holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. day.
 
Costanzo was scheduled to assist the Council with the declaration of an abandonment of three signs at Second Street and Highway 99. The signs will be declared a public nuisance and order the property owner to abate the nuisance.
 
The Costanzo matter was first brought to the council at the Dec. 7 meeting but was continued.
 
At the start of the Thursday night meeting, Costanzo attempted to prove that Councilmember Mendoza-Navarro had a conflict of interest. He said that if the matter went to court, the council’s vote could be declared invalid.
Quotes were hard to decipher because of breaks in the audio of the meeting, which was conducted and recorded via Zoom.
 
Developer Cliff Tootellian, who has had projects in Selma since 2006, was the first to comment under the public comment.
 
“I want to say that it’s a travesty, among newly elected members, that there is an immediate conflict that is brought before the public elect, against an individual that is the most knowledgeable with depth of background, legally, logistically and even financially. It is apparent in my opinion that it is political.
 
Without his background, the city will face significant difficulties and financial impact,” Tootellian said before being silenced by Mayor Robertson for going over his allotted three minutes.
 
Former Council member Avalos said that the council members took an oath to serve the public. Any delays will cost the city money in projects, he said.
 
“This is very serious and this is on your guy’s watch,” he said.
 
Probably the most vocal citizen was Yolanda Torrez, who said that you can not fire a city attorney without prior cause.
“You are making this a personal issue,” she said. “We are putting us in a very critical situation.”
 
Dr. Humberto Gomez Jr. also spoke. He is a resident of Parlier but grew up in Selma. “I know that Mendoza-Navarro does not have a conflict of interest,” said Gomez.
 
City Manager Teresa Gallavan gave this statement, “The city has an interim agreement with Costanzo and Associates, for special council services. The city is considering terminating the agreement pursuant to the terms of the agreement. Section 9 of the agreement, Termination, states this agreement may be terminated by the city at any time, without notice, without cause, and/or for any reason.”
 
Each community member who spoke earlier, with the exception of Avalos, spoke again. They were joined by Rosemary Alanis.

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