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Lemoore initiates litigation against Council member

LEMOORE — After an emergency special meeting held Tuesday, the city of Lemoore has initiated litigation against Councilmember Holly Blair in the form of a complaint and request for temporary restraining order.

While the meeting was held in closed session, it was reported out afterwards by City Attorney Jenell Van Bindsbergen that there was a 4-0 vote to initiate the litigation.

Blair was present at the meeting, but was not inside closed chambers during the discussion. The vote came from the other four members of the Council, including Mayor Eddie Neal, Mayor Pro Tem Chad Billingsley, and Councilmembers Dave Brown and Stuart Lyons.

The city has filed legal documents and initiated the case in the Kings County Superior Court.

Reached Thursday, Blair directed all questions to her attorney, Maggie Melo from the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield, LLP — civil rights and employment law attorneys out of Visalia.

Melo said all parties agreed in court Thursday that they would not make any public comment about the litigation.

According to the court’s website, a hearing was scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 31.

In August 2018, Blair — who is in her first term — was censured, and remains so, for engaging in “conduct unbecoming of a Council member”, among a long list of other reasons.

Some of the items listed as reasons and examples include discussing personnel matters in public settings, making allegations against city staff without factual evidence and using expletives and inflammatory language in communication with city employees, residents and fellow council members.

The censure is a formal expression of disapproval of Blair’s actions from her fellow Council members.

During Council meetings since that time, several citizens have used their public comment time to admonish Blair for her alleged behavior in public or online through social media.

During the last Lemoore City Council meeting on Jan. 15, Blair read aloud a letter detailing her concerns about Lemoore’s government and police department.

Blair said the entire situation began in February 2018, when she said she was pulled over by Lemoore Police several times for trivial offenses or followed by officers after voting against hiring City Manager Nathan Olson.

She said she took the issue to Police Chief Darrell Smith, but instead of investigating, she said he and the Council decided to “berate [her] publicly” by holding a meeting to discuss her conduct in April 2018.

Blair said she then expressed concern about a conflict of interest between Smith and Olson and publicly asked for and independent investigation into her interaction with local law enforcement.

Shortly after, she said a recall effort was launched against her. That effort, however, did not get all the requisite signatures in the time allotted.

Blair also alleged that she was subjected to “obviously ridiculous” and “completely baseless” employee complaints from two top members of the police department, including Smith, submitted only to harass her.

Blair said the actions “paint a disturbing picture of abusive power in the city of Lemoore” and that the entire affair was instigated and encouraged by former councilman and mayor, Ray Madrigal — someone who she’s publicly disagreed with on multiple occasions in the past.

Blair then requested a formal and thorough independent investigation into some of the matters she spoke of and entered the letter into public record.

As an update to the community, city officials sent out a statement Thursday morning that said the litigation does not change Blair’s status as a council member, including her ability to attend Council meetings.

Lemoore’s next council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 5.


Local
top story
SPHS cheerleaders represent U.S. abroad

Two Sierra Pacific High School cheerleaders had the opportunity to perform in two different countries during their winter break.

Senior Samantha Mello and sophomore Anastyn McVay traveled abroad to London and Rome, respectively, as All Americans representing the United States.

Head Cheer Coach Betty McVay said both girls got the opportunity to explore the countries they were in and perform in front of thousands of spectators.

Samantha Mello is an SPHS team captain and was nominated as an All American cheerleader by the National Cheerleading Association when she attended camp at University of California, Santa Cruz, in July 2018.

McVay said Samantha received her nomination as an outstanding cheerleader for her strong leadership abilities.

On Dec. 26, Samantha traveled to London, England, where she stayed for a week and performed with other top cheerleaders from the U.S. in the New Year's Day Parade.

“London was a life changing experience. The feeling of being one person in a city of millions is one that I’ll always love and remember," Samantha said. "I learned that the world is so much more than I could ever imagine. I fell in love with walking down the street and hearing different languages and looking up at buildings that people have looked up at for hundreds of years.”

Anastyn McVay is a member of both the cheer and dance team for Sierra Pacific and also received an All American cheerleader nomination from the National Cheerleading Association in July 2018

In addition, McVay said Anastyn was also inducted into the United Spirit Association's All American dance team in August 2018.

Since Anastyn received a distinction for both cheer and dance, she was given the option to perform in London or Rome, Italy. She has an extensive background as a competitive dancer, so she chose the dance performance.

On Dec. 26, Anastyn traveled to Rome for a New Year's Day performance with participants from all over the world.

“It was amazing to travel halfway around the world and see a new place, meet new people and learn about a new culture," Anastyn said. "What made it even more amazing was the fact that doing something I love so much is what took me there. I will never forget what it felt like to dance in Rome with such a huge audience cheering me on.”

McVay said the school is very proud of their accomplishments.


National
AP
National parks tally shutdown damage

LOS ANGELES — In Death Valley, piles of human feces and hunks of what rangers call "toilet paper flowers" were left scattered around the desert.

At Joshua Tree, officials found about 24 miles of unauthorized new trails carved into the desert landscape by off-road vehicles, along with some of the park's namesake trees toppled.

And at Point Reyes along the Marin County coast, a colony of elephant seals made a popular beach their new home and welcomed 40 new pups into the world.

With the partial federal government shutdown over — at least for now — authorities are beginning the tally to damage that occurred to some of California's national parklands during the weeks in which many park officials were off the job.

While volunteers tried to keep the peace, officials returned to find humans — and some creatures — had taken advantage of the lack of supervision.

In the end, park officials said the damage to the parks was scattered but not widespread. The cleanups are underway, and that includes removing vandalism and fixing up trashed facilities.

During the shutdown, some reports "made it sound like it was the Wild West," said George Land, a Joshua Tree spokesman. "While there was a certain segment of the population like that, the majority of visitors love this area and love the park and behaved themselves. This is not a virtual wasteland."

Some of the most concerning losses involved three Joshua trees that were cut down or damaged and two mature juniper trees that were cut for firewood along with dozens of cat claw acacia trees, said park Supt. David Smith.

Joshua Tree — which was on track to have more than 3 million visitors in 2018 — also missed out on roughly $1.03 million in entrance fees, Land said.

"I don't want to put everything in dollars and cents, but sometimes it comes down to that," he said.

Former Joshua Tree Superintendent Curt Sauer decried the destruction at the park along with dozens of other people at a rally over the weekend.

He estimated it could take centuries for the park's namesake trees and other sensitive vegetation to recover from damage inflicted during the shutdown.

Some trees appear to have been chopped down, but Land said rangers don't know how many were harmed or how the destruction was caused.

"There appear to be trees that people may have hooked hammocks onto or did some damage to," he said.

Joshua trees grow slowly, only about an inch to an inch and a half a year, Land said.

In addition to the trees, off-road drivers cut destructive scars in the desert floor's delicate biological soil crust. Advocates had warned of such damage during the shutdown and called for the park to be closed entirely.

Joshua Tree staff also discovered evidence of more than 100 campfires outside designated campsites, Land said.

At Death Valley National Park, government workers have counted 40 piles of human feces and more than 1,400 wads of toilet paper, spokeswoman Abby Wines said.

So much human waste piled up in Yosemite National Park from visitors using the side of the road as a toilet during the shutdown that officials closed two campgrounds and a popular redwood grove, citing public safety concerns. But park officials say it was spared any long-lasting damage.

Yosemite National Park employees are faced with other tasks like getting back to work on deferred maintenance, working out the kinks in the payroll system, and hiring seasonal workers before the summer season starts, said park spokesman Scott Gediman.

"The park itself looks great," he said.

And not all of the imprints left at the national parks have been from humans.

North of San Francisco at Point Reyes National Seashore, the lack of people provided an opening for a colony of elephant seals to move onto Drakes Beach, leading officials to close off vehicle, foot and bicycle traffic on the access road leading to the popular shore area.

"It was the perfect storm," said park spokesman John Dell'Osso. "We had king tides, a literal storm and nobody walking up and down the beach for a week."

Had park staff been on hand, they would have shooed the large marine mammals away.

At Death Valley, the impact of the government shutdown includes things that didn't happen. At least five school field trips to the park were canceled and nearly 150 educational programs were scrapped, including guided hikes and presentations on native animals and geology that would have served about 6,000 visitors, officials said.

The park also skipped its popular night-sky program, where rangers set up four telescopes to let visitors look at the Milky Way on moonless evenings.

"That is by far our most popular program," Wines said. "We help people connect to the stars and how our ancestors used the stars."

Park advocates are already bracing for the possibility of another government shutdown since the continuing resolution President Donald Trump signed only reopens the federal government through Feb. 15.

"I think there is some relief but there is not much," said David Lamfrom, the director of the California desert and national wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Association. "The shadow of another looming shutdown is there."


Crime-and-courts
Probation sweep nets 11 arrests

HANFORD — A probation sweep in Hanford led to the arrest of 11 people for various violations, Hanford Police Department officials said.

On Thursday, officials said HPD’s Problem Oriented Policing (POP) Team and Kings County Probation Department conducted a multi-agency probation sweep in the city of Hanford.

The agencies assisting in the probation sweep were the Kings County Sheriff’s Department, Lemoore Police Department, Kings County District Attorney’s Office and Kings County Gang Task Force.

Police said the probation sweep targeted more than 30 individuals at 25 separate locations who are currently on probation.

Authorities said the sweep netted 11 arrests for various violations of the law including narcotics violations, possession of credit cards belonging to another, warrants and violating terms of a court order.

Along with three juveniles on probation who were arrested on various charges, the following adults were arrested:

  • Joseph Perez, 30, charged on suspicion of resisting arrest and possession of drug paraphernalia. 10-day post release community supervision flash hold.
  • Thomasia Perez, 24, warrant arrest.
  • Shelby Sotelo, 57, charged on suspicion of probation violation, possession of a controlled substance, possession of methamphetamine and identity theft.
  • Nicholas Pinon, 19, charged on suspicion of criminal contempt of court.
  • Michelle Owens, 20, charged on suspicion of possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Eulallio Medina Castillo, 35, warrant arrest.
  • Vanessa Morales-King, 23, warrant arrest.
  • Julio Sanchez Jr., 48, warrant arrest.

Contributed 

Holly Blair