Meet The Mayors
For the last two years, there has been a rift in Lindsay between the haves and have-nots. A barrier between Spanish speakers and English speakers. A misunderstanding between the town’s established past and the City’s emerging present.
But with the recent election of two new City Councilmembers and their selection of Ramona Padilla as mayor, there is hope for Lindsay to put aside its differences and put an emphasis on its common goal for a better place to live.
“I hope I can be a voice for so many who didn’t feel like they had one,” Padilla said. “I know there is some healing that needs to be done and I look forward to doing what I can to help that process.”
Padilla’s choice as mayor was applauded by both sides. To the current administration and supporters of the past City Council, Padilla represents someone appointed by the Council who now has two years of city government on her resume. For those who voted for change, Padilla represents an objective ear to hear their concerns.
“I am honored my fellow councilmembers thought that highly of me,” Padilla said. “I have some big shoes to fill. After 12 years as mayor, Ed [Murray] had a wealth of knowledge. I hope I can collaborate with him so that that knowledge can be passed down through the Council.”
While the late Peggy Sanders holds the distinction of being Lindsay’s first female mayor and Valeriano Saucedo the City’s first Hispanic mayor, Padilla is Lindsay’s first Latina mayor. She is bilingual, a Lindsay native and has spent much of the last decade studying the Hispanic community and their needs in Lindsay.
“I hope I can be that person to bridge the gap between the Council and the citizens,” Padilla said.
Standing up for others is something Padilla learned at a young age. Her father, Guadalupe Villareal, was a well known farm labor organizer in the Delano and Bakersfield areas. Padilla said her father marched with Cesar Chavez and she remembers overhearing meetings with farmworkers at their home.
“In a way, I feel like I am carrying on my father’s tradition of being a voice for the underserved, the unheard and unseen,” Padilla said. “He taught me how you can make a difference by being supportive of people standing up for what they believe in.”
It was her father’s supportive nature which helped Padilla to become the first of 13 siblings to graduate from high school, the first to graduate from college and the first to become a doctor, very soon. Prior to being appointed to the City Council, Padilla worked with the Lindsay Healthy Start Family Resource Center as a counselor for its Father Involvement Program. The program studied migrant fathers and taught them how to better cope with the pressures and responsibilities of being a first-time parent. Padilla is currently working on her doctoral dissertation in psychology on how to reach and help Hispanic women, one of the most underserved segments of the population.
“I hope someday to be a licensed psychologist in Lindsay,” Padilla said. “I know the needs of the people living here in our town. By building stronger families and bringing people together we can build a stronger city.”
In addition to trying to unify a fractured community, Padilla said she would like to see more recreational opportunities in the city, such as more softball and baseball fields in town. An avid softball player whose entire family has played at one level or another, Padilla said she views Lindsay as a team that must work together to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
“Public service is not an easy job, but it is a fulfilling job,” she said. “When we all get to know each other, we will begin to realize we all want what’s in the best interest of the community. I think 2013 will be a very good year for Lindsay.”
City of Exeter
When Robyn Stearns was growing up, she never thought about becoming mayor. But she did have a role model in Exeter’s first female mayor.
Stearns said Phyllis Turner, who was Exeter’s mayor from 1980-82, was also the woman who picked out the outfits for her and the other Exeter Union High School juniors and seniors comprising the Court for the annual Red Carpet Festival, a predecessor to the town’s Fall Festival. And while she may not have realized it at the time, seeing a female mayor may have led her to become Exeter’s second woman to hold that distinction after more experienced councilmembers elected her for the leadership role last month.
“I am surprised I am only the second female mayor in Exeter,” Stearns said. “My goal is to set an example for my daughters.”
Stearns said she had no plans to become mayor when two councilmembers asked her to run in 2008 to take the seat being vacated by her brother Jon Stearns, who served on City Council from 2000-2008. She said she only wanted to give back to a community that has given so much. But in reality, Stearns has always been a leader in the community. She currently chairs the Women In Business series for the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the Exeter Art Gallery and Museum Association’s Board of Directors and was named a Heritage Award winner along with her brother earlier this year.
“People say one person can’t make a difference, but I think in a small town like Exeter one person can make a difference,” Stearns said.
Stearns said she spent most of her first term learning how to be a councilmember and how city government operates.
“Exeter doesn’t have many problems but there is still a lot that goes into running a city,” Stearns said. “It’s been really interesting learning all of what makes a city run.”
While Stearns doesn’t have any specific goals for her two years as mayor, she said she would like to see an increase in the town’s sales tax revenue and to fill the remainder of the vacant storefronts in downtown.
“I want to encourage building owners to place tenants in their buildings,” said Stearns, a realtor with J. Heaton & Associates/Coldwell Banker. “The City has to have them to make money and the City needs revenues to continue to improve our town.”
City of Woodlake
If there was ever a need for a leader who can see both sides of an issue in Woodlake, the time is now. And there might not be anyone better for the job than Woodlake’s new Mayor Rudy Mendoza.
Mendoza has lost an election and won two. He has been a registered Democrat and a registered Republican. He has been an employee and a business owner. He has worked in the fields and on Capital Hill.
“I am ready to lead the City Council but can’t do it without their support,” Mendoza said. “It will take all of us working together to address the issues facing Woodlake.”
Mendoza began working as an irrigator while attending Woodlake High School. When his boss discovered that he was smart, motivated and bilingual, he asked Mendoza to become a pesticide applicator so he could train the company’s other employees. By the time he turned 20, Mendoza was the youngest farm manager in the company’s history overseeing 2,000 acres of citrus in the Porterville area. Ten years later, he started his own company, Mendoza Consulting Services, to provide human resources and safety consulting to farm labor contractors, farmers and manufacturers.
“I enjoy problem solving, which I think is why I enjoy serving on the City Council so much,” Mendoza said.
Things were going well for Mendoza, but as he and high school sweetheart Mirla would take walks through town, Mendoza began to notice problems in Woodlake. The lack of street lighting, poor road conditions, missing sidewalks, etc.
“I think my wife got tired of me complaining so she told me to do something about it,” Mendoza said.
So he decided to run for City Council in 2006. He fell short by 16 votes, but learned a valuable lesson about keeping a conversation with the people. He ran for City Council again in 2008 and won handily. Two years later, Congressman Devin Nunes approached him about becoming part of his staff here in Tulare County. At the time, Mendoza thought it was an odd request because he was a registered Democrat. But after several conversations with people on Nunes’ staff, Mendoza quickly realized his values were more closely aligned with the Republicans.
“As a Hispanic, I was always told I should be a Democrat,” Mendoza said. “It gets ingrained into you and until you engage someone from the other side, you never really question it.”
Within a year, Mendoza closed down his company to work for Nunes full time. Seeing how government works at all levels helped him realize how intertwined small cities are to the fate of state and federal finances.
“I realized so much of what happens in Woodlake is affected at the County, State and federal level,” Mendoza said. “I knew I was going to have to go outside the city limits to help our town make real change happen.”
Mendoza decided to become the City’s representative on the Tulare County Association of Governments. Last year he was named Vice Chair of the transportation agency and has helped Woodlake get funding for several projects to improve the downtown area including a project to put in new landscaped sidewalks, intersections. Street lights and a roundabout on Valencia boulevard as well as a new transit center to make it safer for pedestrians accessing County and city bus routes.
As mayor, Mendoza said he is looking forward to improving downtown’s infrastructure but also wants to improve downtown’s businesses. He said is primary goal as mayor is to have a frank conversation with business owners about their relationship with the City.
“I am going to ask businesses, ‘Are we part of your problem or can we help?’” Mendoza said. “If we can help small businesses to grow and expand while attracting new business to town we will have a great source of jobs, income, tax revenue and success.”
Mendoza said he also wants to use his positions outside of Woodlake to promote the positives of his City. Mendoza said Woodlake’s average of 20% unemployment can be a positive if you combine it with the City’s industrial park. He said company’s like Dryvit and U.S. Tower employ 30-100 people, mostly from Woodlake, who then spend money in town. He said Woodlake also offers cheap real estate for both commercial and residential developers looking to build in today’s market. Woodlake also has the lowest crime rate in Tulare County.
In the coming months, Mendoza said he will give the City’s first State of the City address to give the public an update on where the city is with its projects and what the next step will be to continue making Woodlake a better place.
“Just like a successful marriage, the only way to build trust is to talk to each other,” Mendoza said. “We need to know where we stand. Are we serving you properly? What do we need to work? How can we make life easier or better?”
City of Farmersville
When Pastor Leonel Benavides delivers the sermon to his congregation at the Spanish Bethel Assembly of God, he tells them when things aren’t going well to get back to basics. When asked what the City of Farmersville will do to address its mounting problems, Farmersville’s mayor offers basically the same answer.
“Farmersville is our home and it will be whatever we put into it,” Benavides said.
Benavides has spent all but one year of his time in Farmersville on the City Council. He was appointed to the City Council in August 2001 to replace Myron Wiley. He has been elected to three straight terms and previously served as mayor from 2006-2010.
Benavides moved to Farmersville in June 2000. In fact, he had never even heard of Farmersville until a friend of his, who happened to be Superintendent of the Northern Pacific District of the Assemblies of God, asked him to deliver a morning and afternoon sermon in April of that year.
“The day I delivered the sermon was the first time I had ever been to Farmersville,” Benavides said. “I liked it. It was a nice, small community like where I grew up.”
Benavides said his father moved his family from Texas to Parlier, Calif. in 1959. He attended schools in Parlier before getting his associates degree from Reedley College. In 1969, Benavides was drafted into the U.S. Army where he served oversees for two years. After returning to the states, he returned the ministry and eventually made his home and his church in Farmersville.
“Farmersville was very small, but even with so little people, everyone seemed to be doing their own thing,” Benavides said. “Today, we are all in our little worlds instead of being together as a community.”
Benavides said getting back to the basics of government will be a priority for his two years as mayor. He said the City has to build a new waste water treatment plant to increase capacity for new commercial and industrial growth in order for the City to grow its sales tax base. Unfortunately, Benavides said, that means raising sewer rates in order to pay for a new facility.
“We need the community to understand and back us up on this,” Benavides said. “We need this to make our City better.”
Benavides also said he would like to see people stay in town rather than always going somewhere else for activities or entertainment. The only way to do that is to offer people and their children more to do in town, which is why he hopes to begin working on the sports park sometime this year.
“When I first came here I bought a house, but when I became pastor I moved to Farmersville,” he said. “We need people to get involved here in town and not just sleep here. I don’t want us to be a bedroom community, I want Farmersville to stand on its own.”
Benavides has show his ability to lead in his church. The Spanish Bethel Assembly of God built its first church at 226 E. Front Street in Farmersville in 1980. Just six years after coming to Farmersville, Benavides said his congregation was able to raise enough money to build a new church at 1177 N. Ventura Ave. on 6 acres with plans for a baseball field, park and a charter school.
“I think when we get over the hump with the State financially, cities will begin to thrive,” Benavides said. “There is a lot of potential in Farmersville when you put it all together.”