Accusations of a hidden agenda. Calls for "clarity" and transparency. Disarray in the city.
These were among the charges levied by some residents against Shafter Mayor Gilbert Alvarado, Mayor Pro-Tem Cesar Lopez and City Councilman Manuel Garcia at a recent city council meeting. To boot, one man said he could hardly sleep at night and blamed it on the trio.
"The turmoil you've caused to this community is terrible," said Shafter resident Arlie Smith. "You should be ashamed of yourselves!" And the crowd applauded his remarks.
Now there's talk of mounting a recall against the three incumbents. More on that in a bit.
So what sins have these men committed to get the crowd so riled up? Depends on who you ask. Context is everything, as they say.
Alvarado was first elected to the Shafter City Council in 2008. In Shafter, the five council members nominate and elect a mayor and mayor pro-tem for two-year terms from among their own ranks.
But no one nominated Alvarado for mayor until last year when Lopez was elected to the city council for the first time. Lopez nominated Alvarado for mayor and then along with Alvarado and Garcia, the three voted for Alvarado as mayor, defeating the-long time incumbent, Cathy Prout. In turn, Alvarado then nominated Lopez for mayor-pro tem and the three voted him in as mayor pro-tem.
The three were eager to make some positive changes to what they said were long neglected parts of the city. The lion's share of the city's attention and resources was going to the Wonderful Industrial Park, which provides hundreds of jobs and is expected to keep growing. But poor folks in the city were getting left behind, said Alvarado.
"Just because things are developing so fast and focusing on ... a certain part of town," said the mayor to the mostly skeptical crowd. "My fear is this core city could become the forgotten part of Shafter."
One man agreed with Alvarado on this. "Progress is great, expansion is great. But if you don't maintain what is behind you, you're going to get in trouble," said longtime Shafter resident John Payne.
Residents on the north end of the city who, until now, had been ignored are now being heard, said Alvarado, who also feels the city's downtown area could use some improvements.
He mentioned in an earlier interview this year that he wants to see the city go after grants to spruce up and beautify downtown. And more cops should be out on the streets, especially in the poorer areas of town, he said. Lopez and Garcia voiced similar concerns at the recent public meeting, saying they want to see a united and "goal oriented" city.
But what has apparently irked some folks is what they call the trio's "voting block," a 3-2 majority that consistently outvotes fellow councilmembers Prout and Chad Givens. Things hit the proverbial fan recently with the departure of City Manager Scott Hurlbert. He resigned from his post on Aug. 13, stating in an agreement with the city to mutually part ways because of "differences of opinion" regarding city businesses and affairs.
In return the city paid Hurlbert nearly $250,000 in severance pay.
Some accused the trio of "firing" Hurlbert and demanded answers as to why he was leaving. City Attorney Marco Martinez explained that under the agreement, neither the city council nor Hurlbert can publicly speak about specific reasons for Hurlbert's departure as it was considered a personnel issue. Some were not buying it.
Now there's talk of recalling Alvarado, Lopez and Garcia. "We haven't decided upon it yet," said Jack "Woody" Colvard, who served on the Shafter City Council from 1996 to 2006. Colvard said he wants to give the trio some more time in order to evaluate their job performance and to listen to what the citizens have to say.
"We're not interested in doing a recall, but rather interested in what the citizens want," he said.
Alvarado and Garcia's terms end in 2020 while Lopez's term ends in 2022.
"I can't control what certain people say or think of me, it's their 1st Amendment right to say or think what they want," said Lopez, who works as a correctional officer at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano. "In the last nine months since being elected it's been ... filled with positive experiences and some learning lessons as well."
Alvarado is sticking to his efforts at revitalizing the city's older neighborhoods. "We all know the reality, that there's a gap between the other part of Shafter and this part of Shafter," Alvarado told the crowd at the meeting. "It's very easy to forget this part of Shafter and let it be forgotten. That's my agenda."