Fresno

Brand vetoes bar on retroactive pay raises for City Hall execs

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand has vetoed an amendment to the Transparency Act prohibiting retroactive raises to a small but high-profile slice of the city’s workforce unless they first get City Council approval.

The amendment applies to top City Hall managers who aren’t represented by a union. The amendment was co-authored by Council Vice President Miguel Arias and Council Member Garry Bredefeld.

The Council passed the amendment on July 25. The vote was 6-0. An override of the Mayor’s veto would require a minimum of five votes.

Brand wrote in part in his veto message: “As the author of the original Transparency in City Government Act and the 2015 Amendment, I do not believe this new amendment complies with the spirit of the City Charter and I do not believe this amendment has been thoroughly discussed with the City Manager and other members of my administration to fully understand and address its long-term implications.”

Brand was a council member when he wrote the Transparency Act and the 2015 amendment. Ashley Swearengin was mayor.

Vice President Arias on Monday told me by phone: “I don’t understand the Mayor’s rationale for vetoing something that strengthens something he authored. The only thing I can conclude is that Mayor Brand doesn’t want the same level of accountability that he imposed on Mayor Swearengin…. Nobody has a right to golden handshakes on their way out the door without Council approval.”

The resolution accompanying the Arias-Bredefeld amendment says the change to the Transparency Act “will further improve the transparency in employee and official compensation by prohibiting employees and officials in non-represented management and confidential classifications from receiving retroactive raises and raises after there is notice of the employees’ or officials’ separation from City service.”

Brand in his veto message addressed a growing source of conflict at City Hall: Is the Legislative Branch overstepping its authority and intruding into the Executive Branch’s domain?

Brand wrote: “In my eight years on the City Council, I wrote and passed 18 legislative acts that made fundamental and necessary changes to how the City of Fresno does business. While I take pride in authorship, I collaborated extensively with the Mayor, City Manager and Administration in the development of these acts. Without exception, long before they showed up on a Council agenda as an action item each and every one had been thoroughly vetted. This collaboration made for a better process and a better result. A fully funded emergency reserve fund and the fact that the City has not squandered millions of taxpayer dollars on ill-advised investments or giveaways are two of the best examples of the success of this process.

“That is not the case with this Amendment. Neither myself, my staff nor the City Manager knew about this Amendment until it appeared on the Council Agenda, less than a week before it was scheduled for a vote. That is not enough time for the types of discussions necessary for this type of change.

“I believe this Amendment – unlike the prohibitions on bonuses in the current Transparency Act – violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Charter by interfering in the ability of the City Manager (Chief Administrative Officer) to run the City for the benefit of the Fresno’s residents as described in Charter Sections 705 and 706.

“It is my hope that by vetoing this Resolution the Council will choose to work with me and my Administration to develop a solution to this issue that allows the City Manager to effectively manage her Directors and employees while also maintaining transparency and accountability to the people of Fresno and its Councilmembers.”

Council V.P. Arias took exception to the Mayor’s claim that there was something unusual about the amount of lead time the Administration got on the amendment. In fact, he said, it’s not uncommon for the Council or the Administration to put items on the agenda with a relatively brief lead time.

Charter Sections 705 and 706 deal with the powers and duties of the Chief Administrative Office, or City Manager. They also contain a warning to the Council: Don’t interfere in areas of governance that belong by Charter mandate to the City Manager.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.