Ex-Orange Cove mayor Victor Lopez leads recall

Victor Lopez targets two City Council members.

The Fresno BeeAugust 16, 2012 

Former Orange Cove Mayor Victor Lopez is back in the town's political spotlight, leading a recall to oust two City Council members and hoping to return to a council seat in November.

Lopez said council members Glenda Hill and Frank Martinez -- the recall targets -- are part of a council majority who are spending more than the city can afford on police, water and sewer services.

"I don't think they know what they're doing," Lopez said. "I see financial trouble coming."

Lopez is pushing to vote four of the five council members out of office. He and Diana Guerra Silva, a former City Council member, are running against incumbents Esther Gonzalez and Gilbert Garcia.

Other candidates supported by Lopez will run for the seats of Hill and Martinez if they are recalled, Lopez said. Hill and Martinez have more than two years left on their four-year terms.

Mayor Gabriel Jimenez, who defeated Lopez in his November 2010 bid for another term, said he supports the recall and Lopez's assertion that the Police Department is overspending.

The City Council voted last week to consolidate the recall with the Nov. 6 general election.

Martinez said the City Council is dealing with the same financial problems as other California cities struggling to balance budgets because of declining revenues. He said recall supporters are a small number of disgruntled people.

But, he said, "We have a lot of supporters too."

Hill said the council is trying to improve the city's infrastructure and taking on other challenges during tight financial times. She said the recall effort is unnecessary.

"Unless council members are doing something illegal, give them their four-year terms," she said. "If, after that, people do not like what we have done, they can choose not to re-elect us."

Lopez said some council votes since he left office have resulted from vendettas against him.

One decision in June 2011 ended the city's contract with Target Eight Advisory Council, a nonprofit that operated the local day-care center. Lopez is the Target Eight executive director.

Orange Cove officials last year discovered a host of problems with Target Eight: Its contract expired 10 years earlier, it violated many of its bylaws and it failed to correctly file tax documents.

Lopez took over the nonprofit in the 1970s, just a few years before he was first elected to the City Council. He held both jobs simultaneously for almost three decades.

Hill said the council gave Target Eight officials time to fix the problems, but they did not, forcing the contract termination.

Jimenez said Target Eight was not given enough time.

Hill denied Lopez's accusations of voting vendettas.

She said Lopez had a hand in many dealings as mayor, and the council has had to determine whether some of them were handled incorrectly.

Just over a year ago, the council voted to change the name of the Victor P. Lopez Rural Economic Development & Job Training Center to the Orange Cove Community Center, a decision that divided the eastern Fresno County town.

About 13 years ago Martinez made the council motion to name the community center in honor of Lopez. Today he says that was a mistake.

Lopez said the change was disrespectful to him and those who supported having his name on the center.

"I would wish that whoever is elected would respect the decisions of past councils," he said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386 or ejimenez@fresnobee.com.

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