For the first time in many years, every city will have a contested race for city council


By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
TULARE COUNTY – The tenor in Washington has the voters taking a closer look at races across the nation they wouldn’t normally be tracking. And whether you like what’s going on in the capitol or not, it has certainly sparked a renewed interest in politics at every level, including here in Tulare County. 
For the first time in many years, there will be an election for at least one city council seat in all eight incorporated cities. Those running in the November election include residents taking their first step into the public spotlight, those who have stepped out and want back in and others who have held the dais for decades. Here are a look at some of the story lines in local city council races as well as school boards and hospital districts. 
Lindsay City Council
If Roseana Sanchez wants to regain a seat on the Lindsay City Council she will have to unseat two tenured incumbents in Esteban “Steve” Velasquez and Danny Salinas. But she’s done it before. Sanchez and Steve Mecum unseated five-term incumbents Velasquez and then Mayor Ed Murray in 2012. Sanchez and Mecum became the antithesis of the well established city council and often quarreled with councilmembers Pam Kimball and Salinas from 2012-2016 with new mayor Ramona Padilla-Villarreal providing a perilous see-saw between the two factions. 
After a failed bid for the District 1 seat on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, Sanchez chose not to defend her seat on the Lindsay City Council in 2016. Velasquez was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Padilla-Villarreal on election day in 2016. Salinas has served consecutively on the City Council since 2001. The crowded field of candidates also includes Yolanda Flores, who spearheaded a failed effort to recall Murray, Velasquez, Kimball, and Salinas in 2010, and Eric Eugene Perfecto Sinclair, a frequent speaker during public comment period lost his bid for city council in the 2014 and 2012 elections.
Farmersville City Council
Leonel Benavides has spent all but one year of his time in town on the Farmersville City Council, but this November the only voting he will do is at the polls. After serving nearly five terms on the council, Benavides chose not to file papers this month. He was appointed to the City Council in August 2001 to replace Myron Wiley shortly after moving to town in 2000 to become pastor of the Spanish Bethel Assembly of God. He was elected to three straight terms and previously served as mayor from 2006-2010. Just months after losing the 2014 election by one vote, he was appointed in March 2015 to finish out the term of the man who defeated him after Freddy Espinoza stepped down. Incumbents Paul Boyer and Matt Sisk will attempt to retain their seats on the council from a field of five challengers. Ruben Macareno is seeking his first political office after unsuccessful bids for two seats on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, and two seats in the California Legislature. This is a second run at city council for housekeeper Carrie Elaine Ortiz who lost to Greg Gomez and Rosa Vasquez in 2016. Debbie Vazquez, who has previously served on the city’s Recreation Advisory Committee, will seek her first elected position. Rounding out the newcomers are Danny Valdovinos, co-founder of Team KO mixed martial arts, and Tina Hernandez, a realtor with Century 21 Jordan-Link & Company. 
Exeter City Council
For the first time in the city’s history, Exeter residents will only get to vote for one seat on the Exeter City Council. Late last year, the City of Exeter made the switch from at-large to by-trustee elections to avoid being sued by Southern California attorney Kevin Shenkman for allegedly violating the California Voters Rights Act. Exeter residents previously voted for three seats with the top three vote-getters being elected to the seats regardless of where they lived. Now residents can only vote for candidates that live in their district. Current Mayor Teresa Boyce lives in District A and will be challenged by administrative assistant Melanie Morton. Incumbent Mary Waterman was unopposed for the District D seat and was appointed in lieu of election. There will be at least one new face on the council. Gordon Gerdes did not seek a second term on the council and he has been replaced by newcomer Frankie Alves in District C. Alves is a farmer, Navy veteran and son to Kristy Alves and husband to Cassi Alves, owners of local favorite Hometown Emporium. 
Woodlake City Council
The City of Woodlake is quickly becoming a destination for businesses, cannabusinesses, and people wanting to get into a small community while it is still affordable. Those already living there have taken notice of the great public works projects completed and ongoing for the last five to seven years and more people have an interest in being involved with a city that operates efficiently and effectively. Longtime incumbents Frances Ortiz and Gregorio Gonzalez, Jr. and first-term councilman Louie Lopez will face two challengers in November – social worker Florencio Guerra, Jr. and Lupe Robles Pinon. Ortiz is a five-term councilmember who has served consecutively since 1998. Gonzalez was first elected to a short term seat in 2008 to fill the seat vacated by Chuck Ray. Lopez was appointed to the council to fill the vacancy created when Ray, who was re-elected to the council in 2014, again stepped down in 2015. 
Farmersville Unified
Things have settled down on the Farmersville Unified School District Board following a tumultuous 20-year reign of trouble. The district has had the same superintendent for three years, and there have been no recall attempts or infighting between the board and the administration or between the board members themselves. All three incumbents have filed for re-election including Lupe Fernandez, Jorge Vazquez, and John Alvarez. Fernandez and Vazquez were elected to the board 2014 and are seeking a second term. Alvarez was appointed to his seat in March 2016 to fill the seat vacated by longtime board member John Vasquez, who resigned citing poor health and his frustration with the board’s decisions. Vasquez subsequently was elected to the board again just a few months later in November 2016. They will be challenged by three newcomers including Augie Macareno, Myra Martinez and Roberto Torres.
Woodlake Unified
Retired educator Helen Renteria was elected to the Woodlake Unified School District board after unseating Charles Mills in 2011 and ran unopposed in 2014. This time around she will have to defeat two challengers for the Area B seat in retired account clerk Armida Martinez and retired teacher Donna Fraser. Incumbents Richard Rochin and George Sanchez were uncontested and appointed in lieu of election to the Area D and A seats, respectively. 
Lindsay Unified
For a district that embraces change in education there won’t be any on their board of trustees. Incumbents Vahnn Blue, Jean Miller, and Alex Flores were the only candidates to file and will be appointed in lieu of election just as they were in 2014. This will mark a sixth term for Blue and Miller. Flores was appointed to the board in 2012. 
Exeter Unified
Exeter residents seem happy with the current make up of the Exeter Unified School District board and it won’t be changing any time soon. Incumbents Dean Sutton (Area 2), Michael Giefer (Area 4), Virginia Padilla (Area 5), and Raymond Strable (Area 6) were all unopposed and will be appointed in lieu of election to the seven-member board. 
Sequoia Union (Elementary)
Three of the four incumbents will return to the board of the charter school district as Bradley Ward, Nicole Ray and Anna Eynaud were appointed in lieu of election. The only incumbent who won’t be back is Matt McEwen who did not seek re-election. His seat will be filled by farmer Lane Anderson.
Strathmore Union Elementary
Incumbents Patty Crocker and Jim Shropshire return to the Strathmore Union Elementary School District Board as both candidates were unopposed and appointed in lieu of election to Area 2 and 5, respectively. The board will need their votes to appoint someone to fill the Area 4 seat. Michael Noell did not seek re-election and no other candidates filed for the seat. 
Sunnyside Union (Elementary)
Two of the three incumbents will be back on the Sunnyside Union Elementary School District board in Plainview but one will have to win the seat on the ballot. Humberto Cardenas is again the Area 2 representative and Kimberly Braziel will again sit in the Area 3 seat. Incumbent Schuyler Glover is being challenged by afterschool program leader Luana Leavens for the Area 4 seat. 
Stone Corral
Seville and Yettem residents won’t vote for candidates on the ballot but they will vote for a school bond. Incumbent Ruben Tavarez was unopposed for her seat on the l Stone Corral Elementary School District board and was appointed in lieu of election. But voters in the single-school district will decide if they will tax themselves as part of Measure C. The $750,000 bond would go to repair or replace leaky roofs, construct a multipurpose room/gym, and modernize/renovate outdated classrooms, restrooms and school facilities. The bond would cost voters 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value or about $25 per year, on average.
Three Rivers Union (Elementary)
Big changes are coming Three Rivers Union School District. Longtime Three Rivers residents Susan Sherwood and her son Scott will no longer lead the district. Susan announced in June that she was stepping down as the superintendent/principal of the single school district after 23 years in that position. Whomever fills the position will be just the fifth superintendent in the school’s 90-year history. Scott did not file for re-election and neither did fellow incumbent George Kulick. In fact, the only candidate to file for the three seats up for election this November was incumbent Susan Winters. Already in the midst of a superintendent search, the dwindling board and administration is also working to pass a $4 million bond measure in November to upgrade aging facilities. 
Lindsay Hospital District
There hasn’t been a hospital in Lindsay since it closed in 1999, but the Lindsay Local Hospital District is still collecting property taxes and using them to fund operations at the Lindsay Wellness Center, to purchase an ambulance to post in town, and other health and wellness related projects throughout the city. Longtime board member Cynthia Baker is not running, which has opened the door for three newcomers to challenge the lone incumbent, barber Rick Loftin, for two seats on the board. Lisa Waggoner, who is now running the Wellness Center, is the leading challenger, followed by Ignacio Alcocer and Valerie Velasquez.
Exeter Ambulance District
There’s plenty of interest in the publicly funded ambulance district but not a lot of interest in overseeing it. Luckily, the board still has a quorum with Adam Pfenning being appointed in lieu of election to the Area 2 seat and Tony Miller keeping his at-large seat through 2020 after the district and Elections Office settled a dispute over whether or not he needed to file to maintain his seat for Area 2, where he lives, even though he was appointed in lieu of election prior to EDA switching to district elections. The current board still includes Diana Mendez, giving them the three board members needed to hold public meetings and vote on action items. The board will again be forced to appoint two members to represent Areas 1 and 5.