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County approves Homelessness Collaborative

HANFORD — In an effort to address the ever-growing issue of homelessness within the county, the Board of Supervisors approved at their meeting Tuesday the formation of a Kings County Homelessness Collaborative.

The Homelessness Collaborative would advise and assist in the county’s efforts to address homelessness by assessing strengths and gaps in the current system and developing strategies to meet needs that have been unmet.

The collaborative is also intended to make recommendations on policies aimed at improving strategies, goals and funding resources to address homelessness.

Homelessness has become an issue not only in Hanford and Kings County, but in communities all across the state.

“There are many organizations committed to serving homeless persons and reducing the prevalence of homelessness; however, resources are fragmented and do not provide a seamless navigation experience to homeless persons seeking habitation,” stated the county staff report provided in the meeting’s agenda.

According to the county staff report, because multiple sectors like health care, law enforcement, faith-based organizations and other areas intersect with homelessness, then addressing the issue requires a coordinated response from committed organizations and people working across different sectors.

Members of the Hanford City Council have shown interest in partnering up with the county to tackle the issues together after recent plans to locate a homeless service center in the city fell through.

The Kings County Department of Public Health will act as the coordinating agency and Director Edward Hill suggested representatives from the following categories for membership:

  • Board of Supervisors
  • Kings County Behavioral Health
  • Kings County Department of Public Health
  • Kings County Human Services Agency
  • Kings County Sheriff’s Office
  • Adventist Hospital
  • Community Action Agency
  • Housing Authority
  • Faith community
  • Local business association
  • Community of Armona
  • City of Avenal
  • City of Corcoran
  • Grangeville community
  • City of Hanford
  • Community of Hardwick
  • Kettleman City
  • City of Lemoore
  • Community of Stratford
  • One “community partner” member from a category like a senior citizen agency; school, school district or County Office of Education; or community-based organization

Together, members would work on comprehensive approaches to address the root causes of homelessness and significant barriers to reducing homelessness.

Chairman Joe Neves said he would also like to see a representative from some type of transportation authority, which Hill said he would work on getting as well.

The supervisors voted unanimously to create the collaborative.

With the board approval, Hill said the department will now set out to recruit members and then hold a kick-off meeting once the members are approved by the board.

Hill said he will start recruiting immediately and hopes to hold the kick-off meeting within a month, where members will begin to figure out their specific goals and objectives.

Once it gets going, the Homelessness Collaborative will periodically report back to the Board of Supervisors.

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Flynn still fresh and 'Wicked' after 3,000 performances

FRESNO — Actor Tom Flynn and his two French bulldogs are on a road trip, seeing the American West together in between performances of “Wicked.”

The next stop on the road for Flynn, who has performed more than 3,000 times in the beloved musical, will be Fresno where “Wicked” will run March 20-31 at the Saroyan Theatre.

“I’ll never do it any other way, if I were ever to tour again,” he said, noting that most actors on the tour fly from city to city, while he decided to hit the road in his new car.  “It’s really nice to see mountains and it’s a great way to see the country — it’s different than from out of an airplane window.”

Anyone who’s been on a long road trip knows the road can get lonely, but Flynn’s “fur babies,” Harley and Olive,” are there for hi, through every tick of the odometer, he said.

“It really takes the loneliness away,” he said. “That’s the hardest part of being on tour. Even though you’re socializing with your cast members, you’re still very isolated.”

Flynn has performed with “Wicked” on Broadway and with the original San Francisco and Los Angeles companies, but he prefers taking the show on the road than to be anchored in one spot, he said, noting that cast members tend to be a little friendlier on tour and aren’t as likely to treat the production as a job that you can leave at the end of the proverbial day.

“You’re more connected, in a way, because you’re all on the same journey together – literally,” he said.

For Flynn, there's no place like the road. 

Flynn recently rejoined “Wicked” after a short hiatus. When the first national tour closed in Los Angeles in the spring of 2015, Flynn headed back home to New York.

“I just lived the life of an actor. I auditioned for a million things and never got any of them – which happens at any stage of an actor’s life,” he said.

After a few years in the Big Apple, Flynn moved back to Los Angeles while dealing a divorce, thinking that if there was ever a good time to get back on the road and tour, that would be it.

He was offered to reprise his role of Doctor Dillamond, the half-goat-half-man that teacher at the school heroines Elphaba and Glinda attend.

The story tells the tale of the magical land of Oz, though not from the usual angle.  In “Wicked,” Dorothy and Toto are still in Kansas while the story focuses on the Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West and her good counterpart, Glinda.

“To be part of a show without having to carry show, like the witches do eight times a week, is the perfect amount of time to be on stage,” he said. “It’s an integral character because the audience has a lot of sympathy for him. He’s kind and he’s intelligent and he’s a driving force of the classroom.”

After 3,000 performances as the character, Flynn said that his goal is to make it seem to the audience that every night is his very first night on the job.

In the 11 years since Flynn first donned the floppy ears, horns and hooves of the good doctor, he’s evolved his performance, he said. While at first, he played Dr. Dillamond with as a “stereotypical older character actor part,” but the character, as Flynn embodies it, has become more real over the years, now taking the stage with more power and gravitas, he said.

Flynn, who also appeared in productions of “Dracula” and “Dorian,” based on the Oscar Wilde book about an immortal and immoral man, said he’s attracted to plays about darker characters and anti-heroes.

Celebs, coaches charged in college bribery scheme

BOSTON — Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most selective schools.

Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields, were charged. Dozens, including Huffman, the Emmy-winning star of ABC's "Desperate Housewives," were arrested by midday.

"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the results of a fraud and conspiracy investigation code-named Operation Varsity Blues.

The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

Two more of those charged — Stanford's sailing coach and the college-admissions consultant at the very center of the scheme — pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston. Others appeared in court and were released on bail.

Several defendants, including Huffman, were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Huffman appeared in a Los Angeles courthouse where a magistrate judge said she could be released on a $250,000 bond. She is scheduled to appear in court March 29 in Boston.

No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were unaware of what was going on. Several of the colleges involved made no mention of taking any action against the students.

The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions — sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents — and that privilege begets privilege.

College consultants were not exactly shocked by the allegations.

"This story is the proof that there will always be a market for parents who have the resources and are desperate to get their kid one more success," said Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. 

The central figure in the scheme was identified as admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California. He pleaded guilty.

Singer's lawyer, Donald Heller, said his client intends to cooperate fully with prosecutors and is "remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life."

Prosecutors said that parents paid Singer big money from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes to boost their chances of getting accepted. The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students' answers.

Some parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and some as much as $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission, officials said.

"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.

The investigation began when authorities received a tip about the scheme from someone they were interviewing in a separate case, Lelling said. He did not elaborate.

Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball took payoffs to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. Once they were accepted, many of these students didn't participate in the sports.

The applicants' athletic credentials were falsified with the help of staged photographs of them playing sports, or doctored photos in which their faces were pasted onto the bodies of genuine athletes, authorities said.

Prosecutors said parents were also instructed to claim their children had learning disabilities so that they could take the ACT or SAT by themselves and get extra time. That made it easier to pull off the tampering, prosecutors said.

A number of colleges moved quickly to fire or suspend the coaches and distance themselves from the scandal, portraying themselves as victims. Stanford fired the sailing coach, and USC dropped of its water polo coach and an athletic administrator. UCLA suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.

Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom "Full House" in the 1980s and '90s. Huffman was nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender woman in the 2005 movie "Transamerica." She also starred in the TV show "Sports Night" and appeared in such films as "Reversal of Fortune," ''Magnolia" and "The Spanish Prisoner."

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the entrance-exam cheating scam.

Multiple agencies conduct minor decoy operations

HANFORD — On Saturday, dozens of law enforcement agencies statewide partnered with special agents from Alcohol Beverage Control to conduct minor decoy and shoulder tap operations in various alcohol-selling businesses, including throughout Kings County and the city of Hanford.

During these operations, minors under the age of 21 years old attempted to purchase alcohol from local liquor stores, gas stations and markets, or attempted to have adults purchase the alcohol for them, even after telling the adults they were not 21 years old.

Kings County Sheriff’s Office

During the operation, officials visited the Shell Gas Station, located at 161 W. D St. in Lemoore. At this location, they said two minor decoys successfully purchased alcohol from an employee, 19-year-old Abdulrahman Omar.

As a result, deputies said Omar was issued a criminal citation for selling alcohol to a minor and was then released at the scene.

Officials said Alcohol Beverage Control will be taking administrative action against the business' liquor license.

Also during the operation, 23-year-old Dalila Ramirez and 36-year-old Anastacio Castellanos were issued criminal citations at different locations after they purchased alcohol for the minors, Sheriff’s officials said..

If found guilty, officials said Omar, Ramirez and Castellanos could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

During this operation, authorities said 10 businesses were visited and refused to sell alcohol to the minors, and 28 people were contacted and also refused to purchase alcohol for the minors.

The minor decoy and shoulder tap operations, which are funded by an ABC grant that was awarded to the Sheriff's Office, will continue throughout the year.

Hanford Police Department

Hanford Police officials said the department utilized undercover officers and minor decoys to conduct the operation, which netted eight arrests.

Officers said six of the arrests were for individuals purchasing alcohol for the minors and two arrests were for individuals having warrants.

The six people who purchased alcohol for the minors were cited and released, police said.

This operation was funded by the Alcoholic Beverage Control GAP Grant, which was awarded to the Hanford Police Department in July 2018.