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Parlier Political Wars Update: Did the Council Fire the City Attorney, or Not?
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 4 weeks ago on
June 19, 2024

The Parlier City Council voted to fire attorney Neal Costanzo. But, he is still on the job. (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)

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Neal Costanzo had a George Costanza moment.

Last week, the Parlier City Council fired Costanzo — the city’s attorney — on a 3-0 vote in closed session.

At a special city council meeting Monday, Costanzo occupied his normal seat, returning to work as if nothing happened. Just like George in “Seinfeld.”

It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” Costanzo told GV Wire.

Even more unusual: Parlier officials say they can’t find Contanzo’s most recent contract, which stipulated that four councilmembers — not three as before — would have to vote to fire him for termination to take effect.

Costanzo could not elaborate on why he worked Monday’s meeting, citing attorney-client privilege.

His status is the latest in the feud between Mayor Alma Beltran and three city councilmembers — Janie Molina, Diego Garza, and Kathy Solorio —in the Fresno County city of about 19,000 residents.

“I don’t know why he was there,” Molina said.

So, the question is, who is the real Parlier city attorney?

“It’s Neal Costanzo because they don’t have the votes. If we’re going to go against the contract, why have a contract?” Beltran said.

Thus back to the question of whether the city council needs three votes, or four, to remove Costanzo.

Molina would not answer the question because the city is going through the process to remove Costanzo. She said the city “will be taken care of.”

Tensions Months in the Making

For several months, Molina, Garza and Solorio either wanted their own attorney, or to remove Costanzo. Beltran or Costanzo blocked those efforts by not placing the item on the agenda.

“It’s something that I have been trying to do since last year because of the fact that we were never getting straight answers,” Molina said.

Beltran said it would be wrong for the city to dismiss Costanzo. He is currently defending the city from a wrongful termination suit from former police chief Jose Garza.

“He is our city attorney, and I have to have faith that he’s going to go ahead and protect our city, because that ultimately is his job,” Beltran said.

Molina, Garza and Solorio called for special meetings on June 10, 13 and 17. On the 10th, the three-member majority announced out of closed “reportable action” on the city attorney, for what was listed on the agenda as a “public employee performance evaluation.” The council did not announce what action was taken.

On June 13, Molina, Garza and Solorio announced the 3-0 vote out of closed session, terminating services with Costanzo. Beltran, Costanzo, and city councilmember Sabrina Rodriguez did not attend the meetings on June 10 and 13.

Costanzo would not say if he was supposed to be there.

Beltran explained her absence: “I’m not going to be part of something that I feel it is violation.”

Beltran did appear for Monday’s special meeting. Rodriguez remained absent. Costanzo also appeared, sitting at his normal spot.

Rodriguez did not respond to request for comment from GV Wire.

The Lost Contract

In 2022, Molina and Garza won election to the city council, defeating Beltran allies.

Before they took their seats, the lame duck city council amended Costanzo’s contract on Nov. 21, 2022. It would now take a vote of four councilmembers to remove him from office. Plus, there would be a six-month grace period when the new councilmembers started.

Such a contract vote was never listed on an agenda, just itemized as a personnel item in closed session. Costanzo announced the 4-0 vote — Solorio abstained — when the city council returned to open session.

Beltran said she signed the contract.

Somehow, the city lost the signed copy.

“That’s the understanding that I developed. Can’t be found by the city,” Costanzo said.

As of Wednesday, the Parlier city clerk still could not find the signed contract.

“Only in Parlier,” Beltran said on Monday on the dais.

Molina thought she needed four votes, but “if it’s not signed, it’s not a binding contract.”

Beltran said there are other contracts that went missing.

“Those are the things that are internal issues that I cannot control. I can only raise the question of what’s going on. But ultimately, it’s the city manager who’s responsible to make sure that their staff is doing what they should do,” Beltran said.

The city council fired City Manager Sonia Hall on April 18 by a 5-0 vote. She had been on leave since February. Police Chief David Cerda has been acting city manager since.

Costanzo said he had a signed copy of the contract, but could not immediately produce it. Either way, he said “there is no effect” if a signed version can be found.

City Council Hires New Law Office

Beltran spent most of Monday’s special meeting arguing with the other councilmembers and the public. The city council approved the only item on the agenda — a contract for special legal services with Liebert, Cassidy and Whitmore by a 3-1 vote (Rodriguez was absent again).

Costanzo told the city council that the contract with the new attorney would be “ineffective.”

The city council can hire a special counsel for a specific purpose, such as handling a specific court case, or conducting an investigation.

“That’s another thing that is inexplicable to me. If you look at the contract, it’s simply provides for a specific type of services relating to employment matters on request,” Costanzo told GV Wire. “The only people that are authorized to make a request would be the council, and they haven’t made any such request. So they have an approved agreement that isn’t really implemented. Doesn’t have any legs,” Costanzo said.

Beltran questioned what specific purpose LCW would perform.

What Happens Next?

The city council holds a regular meeting this Thursday.

Beltran says she is tired of the public bickering.

“I keep saying, why can’t we move forward? And we still stay stuck on the same thing over and over and over. Has the new council even brought up anything that they would like to see different in the community? What they want to do different for our community? They have not. … All their main focus was me from day one,” Beltran said.

On this matter, Molina agrees.

“My only goal is to put our city back on its feet. My only goal is to move the city forward. I don’t expect anything from the city manager, from the city attorney, from anybody,” Molina said.

An Interim City Manager

Molina said the Costanzo item finally made it to the agenda because Cerda is acting city manager.

The city council seems poised to keep Cerda around. A motion to enlist a search firm to hire a permanent city manager recently failed.

Hall’s dismissal remains a mystery, at least publicly. She never responded to GV Wire’s request for comment.

“It’s just about protecting the city, whether it’s going to be harming us or not,” Beltran said, declining to elaborate because the matter was discussed in closed session.

She said there was no wrongdoing by Hall.

“I still respect Sonia, you know. I don’t have anything against her. I occasionally talk to her. You know, things come up from the city, and it was not a vindictive thing for me because I never had any vindictive reason to go after her,” Beltran said.

Molina explained her vote by saying, “We needed to move in a different direction.”

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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