Wilma Tucker bows out as Fowler city manager

Fowler city manager announces resignation, cites relentless personal attacks from a resident as reason for departure

Fowler City Hall - located 128 S. Fifth St, Fowler, CA. (Kenny Goodman)
Fowler City Hall - located 128 S. Fifth St, Fowler, CA. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published May 14, 2024  • 
9:00 am

FOWLER – Under the weight of continuous accusations and criticism, Wilma Tucker has officially declared her resignation from her role as Fowler city manager.

On May 7, Tucker announced her resignation will be effective July 8. For the reasons behind this decision, she cited relentless attacks on her integrity by a Fowler resident, the lingering aftermath of an “embarrassing” sheriff’s investigation concerning an assault charge filed by the same resident, the lack of public support from the council and the fact she no longer feels safe coming to work.

“I’ve had enough,” said Tucker. “The joy is gone.”

Tucker was hired in February 2021. During her tenure, she said the city has had four balanced budgets. Fowler has a fully functioning fire department – a far cry from the volunteer department that was in place when she became city manager and which she described as a liability for the city.

“I inherited a mess,” she said. “The city had no processes for basic things. And the former city manager was convicted of appropriating city funds.”

In a tearful address to the leaders of the city departments, Tucker said she was proud of what the city accomplished.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Tucker did not identify the resident behind the “relentless attacks” she mentioned, but in the worst kept secret in Fowler, most residents know that Zaida Espana has led the campaign for Tucker’s ouster.

Espana is a business owner in Fowler. Since January of this year, she has periodically emailed the Times regarding her concerns about Tucker.

During her address to the council, Tucker mentioned a few of the reasons why she elected to resign. These reasons align with the charges Espana leveled against Tucker in her emails to the Times.

The allegations include nepotism, commissioning a compensation study that validated Tucker’s salary – in 2022, she received more than $200,000 in total salary. This salary is comparable to what city managers in surrounding cities earn. Espana also accused Tucker of assaulting her following a council meeting last October, which led to a sheriff’s investigation – an investigation Tucker described as embarrassing. Tucker was never charged in the incident.

In subsequent emails to the Times, Espana expressed concerns about other city projects Tucker championed, including what Espana believed was a suspect water well study. She also informed the Times that the city’s drinking water is contaminated, with violations extending back to 2015. Despite this ongoing situation, Espana said Tucker approved the suspect water well, stating it will be an additional water source for the new housing developments under construction.

Espana told the Times she has no personal animus against Tucker; rather, she said she was motivated by the desire to do the right thing.

In a Jan. 18, 2024 email to the Times, in which she attached a copy of the compensation study, she wrote, “City manager Wilma Quan now known as Wilma Tucker requested this particular agency back in May to conduct this payroll audit with the intention to reach a preordained outcome that directly benefited her and all the upper administration persons who she either hired and brought along with her from her administration in Fresno or promoted (assistant city manager, recreation supervisor, police chief, public works director).”

Espana further explained that only top echelon employees benefited from Tucker’s largesse.

She wrote, “All lower positions such as street workers and other lower level city employees, I found out they lowered their pay and removed benefits and when (I) asked about this, the city manager replied the city was in ‘red-cut salary’ but it didn’t apply to her.”

During her May 7 address to the council, Tucker said the unnamed resident has been relentless in her attacks; that since September, she has requested 70 public records requests.

Regarding upcoming city council elections, Tucker said, “I do not care to be part of the fodder.”

She described the political environment in Fowler as toxic and warned that it will result in talented workers leaving the city out of fear they, too, will be attacked. She added that many workers are hesitant about speaking up against what they feel are injustices because they do not want to be publicly pilloried.

On May 12, Espana emailed Assistant City Manager Thomas Gaffery, expressing fears she would be targeted by community members who are unhappy with her actions against Tucker. Espana mentioned that Fowler Recreation Supervisor Yvonne Hernandez has been retaliating against her messaging residents and making public accusations and telling residents that Espana is solely responsible for Tucker resigning.

In her email, Espana wrote, “Yvonne Hernandez’s relentless smear campaign against me, along with her instigation of other residents to join in, has cultivated a toxic and hostile environment that is causing me immense distress and endangering my safety.”

The Times reached Hernandez who replied she had no comment.

Espana’s differences with Hernandez date back to October 2023. Espana sent a letter to city officials complaining that Hernandez showed “favoritism, preferential treatment and unfair bias to certain business owners at the expense of other entities from participating in certain city events in violation of city policy.”

As proof of Hernandez’s behavior, Espana included a Jan. 22, 2024 complaint filed against Hernandez by resident Ana Diaz. In her complaint, Diaz wrote, “I have been a small business owner in (the) city of Fowler and have experienced firsthand the condescending, dismissive, arrogant and rude way that Yvonne behaves with small business owners.”

Diaz further accused Hernandez of publicly berating and embarrassing her and of creating an unwelcoming tense atmosphere at all community events she organizes.

Fowler contracted with an outside agency to investigate the claims against Hernandez and found they were unfounded.

In a May 13 email to the Times, Espana emphasized she was one of a number of Fowler residents who were unhappy with Tucker.

In her email, she wrote, “Resigning to avoid investigation after supposedly only one individual accuses you of corruption and misconduct suggests a weak foundation and questionable integrity to begin with. There appears to be a recurring pattern of misconduct on her part. This is not the first time Wilma Tucker, also known as Quan in Fresno, has been involved in misconduct investigations. It seems she is now attempting to evade investigation and accountability by resigning.”

The Times reached out to Tucker for comment. She is out of the office until May 22.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on May 14, 3:49 p.m. PST to correct Wilma Tucker’s surname to “Tucker,” which was previously reported as “Cook.”

Darren Fraser
Reporter