Rowlett on a roll with re-election record
Don Rowlett continued his Tulare County record of public service by getting elected to a ninth straight term on the Farmersville City Council in November.
So how does one get elected for more than 30 years?
By not campaigning, not identifying himself as an incumbent and certainly not making any promises he can’t keep.
“I did not campaign,” Rowlett said. “I did not want to make promises I might not be able to keep. I don’t want to be like George H.W. Bush and say, ‘read my lips no new taxes’ and then maybe have to raise taxes.”
Rowlett was first appointed to the council in 1982 after councilman Charlie Joyner passed away. Farmersville only had two schools, it had a department store (Paul’s Department Store), a grocery chain (Nichols Payless) and yet didn’t have a police station.
The fact that Rowlett did not garner the most votes in this November’s election was actually more surprising than getting elected to his ninth straight term. According to Tulare County Elections records, Rowlett was unopposed in 1984 and 1988. He was the top vote getter in 1992 (39%), 2000 (20%), 2004 (34%) and 2008 (45%). He was just two votes shy of being the top vote getter in 1996 (26%). Rowlett served as mayor from 1986-1988 and 2010-2012.
“I feel good about it and I appreciate all those that voted for me,” Rowlett said about his most recent re-election.
During his time on the City Council, the City of Farmersville established its own Fire Department (1986), opened its new Civic Center (1998), built a water feature at Veterans Park (2009), purchased property for the future location of a new fire/police station (2008) and turned a historic church into a City landmark (2009).
“I am somewhat of a dreamer and Don keeps me grounded,” City Manager Rene Miller said. “He is very conservative and very practical, which is something every council should have.”
Rowlett was also on the City Council during one of its darkest hours. In 1997, the year began with the firing of then Police Chief Garry Meek during a special meeting of the City Council just weeks before Meek’s retirement. City Manager Ray Ramirez said Meek was fired because he disobeyed a direct order by giving all of his officers the night off to attend his retirement party in Visalia.
Three weeks later, the City Council placed Ramirez on administrative leave after officers said he ordered them to take illegal actions against Meek and others in town. The decision sparked racial tension in town between the Caucasian supporters of Meek and the Hispanic supporters of Ramirez. It even resulted in the resignation of Councilmember Abraham Guillen, leaving Rowlett and two others as the only remaining councilmembers as the City Council already had a vacant seat.
“Don has gone through a lot and his experience and knowledge helped the rest of us,” said Paul Boyer, who served with Rowlett on the City Council from 2004-2012. “He was there during those tumultuous times in the early ‘90s where it would be 4-1 vote and he’d be the one vote. He has plenty of wisdom to share from those tough times.”
In past interviews, the few he would agree to, Rowlett said his favorite part of serving on the council was providing the public with information. Rowlett often asks more questions than any other councilmember, yet doesn’t say a lot. He contends his priorities have always been “potholes and police department service” and his vision for Farmersville – “as little residential growth as possible.”
Rowlett has been employed as a teacher at Snowden Elementary in Farmersville for his entire tenure on City Council. In fact, despite being the most tenured incumbent in Tulare County history, his ballot designation has never read anything other than “Teacher.” He also helps his wife run By The Water Tower Antiques in Exeter.
“I will continue to do what’s best and what the community wants”
-Crystal Havner and Mo Montgomery contributed to this report.