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AWOL Councilmembers Latest Twist in Polarized Parlier Politics
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 4 weeks ago on
June 25, 2024

Three Parlier city councilmembers have boycotted two straight meetings to protest the continued presence of city attorney Neal Costanzo, whom they voted to fire on June 17. (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)

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For the second meeting in a row, a majority of Parlier city councilmembers refused to participate in a scheduled city council meeting on Monday.

Thus, the impasse over Neal Costanzo continuing as the city attorney remains unresolved.

In addition, Mayor Alma Beltran says the council majority boycott is putting $700,000 in road funds for the Fresno County town of about 19,000 residents.

So, what’s going on in Parlier?

In a nutshell, councilmembers Janie Molina, Kathy Solorio, and Diego Garza are locked in a political showdown with Beltran and it’s paralyzing council activity.

‘You Can’t Run a Meeting Without a Council, Right?’

Molina, Solorio, and Garza believed they fired Costanzo with a 3-0 vote on June 17. Costanzo and ally Beltran countered that the council needs four votes to remove him.

Costanzo continued as city attorney, as if nothing happened, on June 17.

When Costanzo appeared at the Thursday, June 20 meeting, Molina, Solorio, and Garza walked out and the meeting stopped because it lost a quorum.

Solorio said she walked out because Costanzo remained on the job.

“He persists to still be there. He does not want to leave. Alma has him sitting there,” Solorio told GV Wire on Monday afternoon. “You can’t run a meeting without a council, right?”

When Beltran rescheduled the meeting for Monday evening, Molina, Solorio, and Garza again no-showed, leaving the council without a quorum.

Resolution Needed to Support $700,000 in Road Fundings

Even with no official meeting, Beltran let loose verbally at the last two meetings against the rest of the city council. She heavily criticized the three for not attending. Meanwhile, councilmember Sabrina Rodriguez attended both meetings without speaking.

Beltran said that $700,000 in road funds is at stake, as a resolution needs to be passed by the end of the month.

“I’ve never dealt with a council so childish, until now,” Beltran said from the dais Monday. “This is harming our city.”

Fines Possible for AWOL Officials

In a legal maneuvering suggested by Costanzo, Beltran adjourned the meeting until tonight, June 25. Costanzo also advised Beltran to issue a notice to Molina, Solorio and Garza compelling their attendance.

If the three fail to appear, they could be subject to a $25 fine based on a 1921 city ordinance, and possibly up to $200 more for the first offense of violating city code.

Costanzo also advised of a 1921 city ordinance that missing four meetings in a row — without an excuse of sickness nor absence from a city — could lead to forfeiture of the council position. Beltran signed the order, and posted it to the city’s website.

Police Chief David Cerda — who serves as acting city manager — would be in charge of serving the notice to the councilmembers.

Cerda did not respond to a request for comment.

Where is the Contract?

Molina, Solorio and Garza have long been frustrated with Costanzo’s performance. Even more so, they believe the city attorney and Beltran blocked discussion or possible removal of Costanzo from the agenda.

Things changed, Molina told GV Wire, when Cerda became acting city manager. One of the duties of the city manger is setting the agenda. Cerda took over in February for Sonia Hall, who was put on leave, then dismissed on a 5-0 vote in April.

The dispute remains as to how many votes are required to fire the city attorney. Costanzo and Beltran contend that a Nov. 21, 2022 vote by a lame-duck city council — Molina and Garza won  election replacing Beltran allies but had yet to be sworn in — amended Costanzo’s contract requiring fourth-fifths approval for dismissal.

The contract was discussed in closed session and approved 4-0, with Solorio abstaining. Although the vote was announced publicly, the debate and exact nature of contract were discussed behind closed doors.

But, no can can produce a signed version of the contract. An unsigned contract from November 2022 GV Wire has seen doesn’t include the supermajority provision.

Molina, Solorio and Garza says the lack of a signed contract means a 2018 agreement  — where only a council majority vote was required — prevails. Costanzo said that even if the signed 2022 contract is missing, it is still valid. He said Monday that at least 10 people can testify about the legitimacy of the contract.

“The city attorney’s contract was four votes. I was copied on an email when it was sent to the Deputy City Clerk and then I saw the mayor sign it. A misfiled contract doesn’t make it non-existent,” former city manager Hall told GV Wire.

However, even the 2018 contract is in question. GV Wire has seen two versions, one with a majority vote required for dismissal, and one that already had the four-fifths provision.

 

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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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