Lewis Griswold

Whistleblower custodian in Porterville fears retaliation

Water from a floor-stripping job was improperly put into this storm drain, a Porterville Unified custodian said.
Water from a floor-stripping job was improperly put into this storm drain, a Porterville Unified custodian said. Special to The Bee

A whistleblower custodian at Porterville Unified who reported the improper disposal of a cleaning chemical to authorities said he is being retaliated against by his employer.

Paul Jaramillo, 66, a custodian for 10 years, said he received “an evaluation that was horrible, horrible” shortly after reporting the incident to Tulare County Environmental Health.

He said he expects to pay a price for being a whistleblower and has gone to his labor union for help.

“They’re going to do something to me,” he said. “I don’t know what it is yet.”

Without mentioning Jaramillo by name, a district official said no adverse actions have been taken.

“I can assure you there has been no retaliation,” said Ken Gibbs, assistant superintendent for business services. “He has not been demoted or removed.”

On March 17, Jaramillo saw custodians removing wax from a floor at a high school and washing the effluent containing a corrosive chemical into a drain connected to the city’s storm drainage system, he said.

Environmental Health notified the Regional Water Quality Control Board and Porterville officials, and advised the city to issue a cease and desist order.

It also told the district to dispose of cleaning fluid waste in the sewer system instead of the storm drain and to get a city permit.

City water utility superintendent Mike Knight said it appears none of the effluent actually reached the city’s storm drain system, and the city will ask the district to use the sewer system and to dilute the effluent.

Jaramillo, who once owned a metal plating business, said he got the custodian job to improve his retirement income and needs a couple of years more on the job.

SPCA: Valley Oak SPCA is out as the contract manager of Visalia’s animal shelter, but the change may be a good thing for the nonprofit organization.

To save money, the city did not renew the contract with Valley Oak SPCA and said it could save $200,000 a year by doing the job itself.

The city took over April 23.

Valley Oak SPCA executive director Tami Crawford said losing the contract reduced the nonprofit organization’s budget by one-third and several employees were laid off, although some were hired by the city.

But the SPCA can forge a new identity and move ahead with its community projects, she said.

“We can actually become a no-kill shelter,” she said. “That’s what the public wants.”

Valley Oak SPCA will stay active in its existing activities, such as animal adoption and low-cost spay and neuter clinic.

The organization started 25 years ago and last year altered 5,984 animals and gave 16,672 vaccinations.

It is in the process of purchasing 2 acres near Plaza Drive and Goshen Avenue in Visalia, near its spay and neuter clinic.

Crawford said she expects to spend a lot of time fundraising.

The SPCA is raising funds to build the Charles E. Hoey Adoption Center, to be followed by the Whitendale Education Center and, eventually, a pet boarding facility.

ACQUITTED: Lawyer Lisa Strongin, a veteran attorney in the Tulare County Public Defender’s Office, accomplished a career rarity when the defendant she represented in a murder case walked free.

Last month, a jury found Edgar Lugo, 35, of Visalia, not guilty. He was released from jail after three years behind bars.

About 2 a.m. Jan. 21, 2013, Clifford St. Martin, 37, was shot to death in Visalia. Lugo was arrested a few months later.

It looked like a love triangle because the victim had been living with Lugo’s former girlfriend, the mother of his child.

But Strongin argued that the victim had a history of confrontations and a few weeks earlier was involved in an altercation in which a gun was fired at his home.

By contrast, Lugo had a steady job, was getting ready to move out of town for a new job at the restaurant chain he worked for, and had obtained custody of the child, she said.

“It’s impressive,” said defense attorney Larry Lee of Visalia, who was not involved in the case. “It’s what we call a straight acquittal … It’s an indication of factual innocence.”

Lewis Griswold covers the news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com, @fb_LewGriswold

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