There was nothing boring about Mayor-elect Lee Brand’s first official news conference.
Brand on Wednesday introduced members of his transition team and several of his top staffers when he succeeds Ashley Swearengin next month as Fresno’s chief executive.
The transition team consists of tried-and-true community leaders, including government expert Pete Weber and former Council Member Blong Xiong.
And it came as no surprise when Brand said H. Spees would play a key role in his administration’s day-to-day governing. Spees ran a spirited campaign in the mayoral primary, finished third behind Brand and Henry R. Perea, then faithfully championed Brand’s winning effort in the general election.
The startling announcement was Tim Orman as Brand’s chief of staff.
Orman is a veteran political consultant with a long string of successes as a campaign manager. His most recent success is Brand himself. As to his experience in making/implementing government policy – I’m not sure he has a lot.
However, Brand has faith in Orman, and that’s the only opinion that counts.
“We were a very good team that obviously was successful in the end,” Brand said during the 15-minute media event in Downtown’s Cultural Arts District. “Tim knows better than anyone else what my vision for Fresno is. I think Tim is the right person right now to help me, to guide me, to keeping that vision of Fresno in a way that I can keep it out of the weeds, I can keep it precise and, most important, we can achieve the goals.”
Fresno has had a strong-mayor form of government for 20 years. For 16 of those years, Georgeanne White has been the mayor’s chief of staff – eight years with Alan Autry and, as of next month, eight years with Swearengin.
It’s enough at this point to simply note that chief of staff is a powerful position. What exactly will Orman be doing?
“The specific job duties will be refined over the next 30 to 60 days,” Brand said.
The transition team and Brand held their first meeting on Wednesday morning. There will be another three or four meetings before Brand publicly takes the oath of office on Jan. 5.
Public safety and economic development were at the top of Wednesday’s agenda.
“I’m asking this diverse group of people, the experts, to give me advice on how to move forward and, more importantly, how to resolve the problems” that face Fresno, Brand said. The transition team “gives me input so I can make the wisest decisions.”
Spees’ title is director of strategic initiatives.
“We pulled the (transition team) meeting around 11 key initiatives,” Spees said. “Those include everything from public safety to homelessness, neighborhood revitalization, economic development, education. Eleven key issues. What we’ve done is set it up around a task force model so that these members of the transition team can give us a candor-filled dialogue at the meetings. But we’re also going to be communicating in between.
“We’re looking at what’s happening now that is good, that deserves maintenance of effort and deserves to be forwarded. Secondly, what are some best practices that deserve to be embedded here in Fresno, that we could really benefit from, to move the city forward in each of these 11 areas.”
Spees said another part of Brand’s transition program is a group called the Fresno Public Policy Initiative.
“It’s a deep-dive in six key areas of public policy which was commissioned by Fresno Pacific University,” Spees said. “These two groups are moving in parallel together. This (the transition team) represents community leadership. That (Public Policy Initiative) represents subject-area experts giving advice and counsel and recommendations as well as metrics and outcomes for the first hundred days, the first year and the first full term of the next mayor.”
Brand in eight years on the city council was a prudent spender. He knew that the taxpayer’s money was precious. He knew that vital services and important initiatives don’t come cheap.
“Money is always an issue,” Brand said. “It has been that way for me for eight years. Finding the money to pay for the initiatives is part of our process in determining the priority list. But some of this is already in the process. We’re going to try to take it to the next step.
“I can be a status quo mayor or I can be a mayor of change. I want to be a mayor of change. To make any difference you have to take an element of risk. I’m willing to do that, but I want to do it in a way that is calculated and produces results. There are so many things out there that need to be done.”
Brand said he would announce more personnel decisions over the next few weeks. He said he has asked City Manager Bruce Rudd to stay at the helm for at least another six months.
Brand said he expects to get Rudd’s answer this week.
Brand said Spees will be a key player “in every major policy I will have. He will be a big part of what I do in the next four to eight years for the city of Fresno.”
Brand said he looks forward to working with the council (which will get two new members next month – Luis Chavez in District 5 and Garry Bredefeld in District 6).
“My style for the last eight years at City Hall has been the style of collaboration,” Brand said. “My staff will reflect that. The people that are advising me will reflect that. In the end, I think we will make good policy. We will make very meaningful changes to Fresno in a positive way.”
Brand said he has worked hard over the past eight years.
“Now the real work starts – to run our city and tackle the many challenges across our city,” Brand said. “It’s absolutely essential that the City Council and the mayor work together to solve these problems. I guarantee you there will be problems along the way. But I’ve always found a way to get around those. And I intend to keep the same approach as the mayor of Fresno.”
Mayor-elect Lee Brand’s transition team:
Paul Binion — Senior Pastor, Westside Church of God
DJ Criner — Senior Pastor, Saint Rest Baptist Church
Nat Di Buduo — President/CEO, Allied Grape Growers
Lee Ann Eager — President/CEO, Fresno County Economic Development Corporation
Ruth Evans — Founder/Owner, The Evans HR Group
Dennis Gaab — Vice President of Forward Planning, Central Valley Division, Benchmark Communities, LLC
Ike Grewal — Analyst, County of Fresno, Department of Behavioral Health
Tate Hill — Senior Manager- Administration, Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, Fresno Community Development Financial Institution (Fresno CDFI)
Fausto Hinojosa, CPA, CFE, Managing Partner, Audit Principal Price Paige and Company
Damon Kurtz — President, Fresno Police Officers Association
Booker T. Lewis — Senior Pastor, Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church
Larry Powell — Political Analyst, Radio Host, Motivational Speaker, Consultant, Minister, Former Superintendent Fresno County Office of Education
Lorraine Salazar — Partner, Sal’s Mexican Restaurants
Rick Steitz — President, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1027
Pete Weber — President/CEO, TeKnowledge, Inc.; President/CEO, Riverbend International
Dora Rivera Westerlund — CEO,Fresno Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Blong Xiong — Principal, B&M LLC, Former Fresno City Council Member