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TRAILMIX: FPOA sweepstakes all the rage, SEIU not at all

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Three quick items from the fascinating world of Fresno politics:

1.) The full governing board of the powerful Fresno Police Officers Association met late Thursday afternoon. The agenda was simple: Vote on endorsements in the mayoral and District 6 City Council races.

I chatted with FPOA President Jacky Parks at union headquarters shortly before he convened the closed-door meeting. He said FPOA would announce the names of the union’s favorites in due time.

That could be 24 to 48 hours. Or it could be a bit longer. I said I’d give him a call on Saturday.

There’s a good chance the announcement will include results of the recent mayoral/District 6 poll funded by the police and fire unions. I asked Parks for the poll numbers. He said he first had to talk with fire union officials since they helped foot the bill.

Parks said FPOA’s political action committee got face-to-face input from the top four mayoral candidates: Council Member Lee Brand, county Supervisor Henry R. Perea, community activist H. Spees and former county Supervisor Doug Vagim.

The PAC did its homework with District 6 candidates, as well. We’re talking about former District 6 Council Member Garry Bredefeld, business-owner Holly Carter and business-owner Jeremy Pearce.

Parks said the PAC sends its recommendations to FPOA’s 17-person governing board. The board has the final say.

Fresno has about 730 sworn police officers. Not all live within the city limits, but many do. There also are lots of retired Fresno police officers living in the city.

These current and former officers don’t think alike politically. But any veteran observer of Fresno politics will tell you that the FPOA endorsement is a valuable asset because the cops union, unlike some of the other city unions, has a knack for delivering a big bloc of votes.

FPOA’s campaign contributions sure help, as well.

2.) Brand, Perea, Spees and Vagim were asked at the recent Fresno Chamber of Commerce mayoral forum: Would you ever sign a pledge with a special interest group.

Pledge, in this sense, meant a written guarantee to govern according to the specific wishes/dictates of the special interest group.

All four candidates said they would sign no such pledge.

The test of their resolve soon arrived.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 asked the four candidates to participate in the union’s March 29 forum. The prize: SEIU’s endorsement.

Vagim emailed me a copy of SEIU’s eight-page candidate questionnaire. Page 8 is titled: “Candidate Pledge Supporting The Right Of Workers To Choose A Union.”

The pledge features six specific promises. For example: “As a candidate and elected official I hereby pledge to publicly support and actively encourage workers who are organizing a union with the Service Employees International Union.”

Vagim returned Page 8 to SEIU with his signature. But he crossed out the word “pledge” wherever it appeared. Vagim at one point added these words to the page: “As a candidate and elected official I hereby will strive to create the environment of fairness to all employees.”

That was enough to get Vagim kicked out of the forum.

Vagim said he got this email from Mai Thao, Local 521 political community organizer: “After reviewing the document, we noticed the changes that you made on the organizing pledge and cannot accept it as a complete proper document; and therefore, cannot invite you to our Candidates Forum.”

I contacted Brand, Perea and Spees. None of them signed the pledge. None got invited to SEIU’s forum.

Each of the four candidates, in his own unique way, explained his reasoning. Certainly the Chamber of Commerce vow was a factor. But so was their view of American democracy.

It’s one thing for a candidate to make a campaign promise, be it oral or in a mailer.

As Spees told me, he would have no qualms as mayor to “change my mind” on a campaign promise if events and the public welfare demanded it.

But for someone to take the mayoral oath of office with something like the SEIU pledge (contract?) sticking out of his/her back pocket – well, all four candidates said that’s no way to secure public consent.

And without public consent, you don’t have an American government.

3.) I bumped into Andy Levine, the shrewd and passionate executive director of Faith in Community (FIC), on Thursday.

FIC is a coalition of local faith-based groups focused on social justice issues.

It was a good 20 minutes before I carried on with my walk. What got Levine and I to chattering? Code enforcement, of course. We both love the topic.

Phase 2 of the city’s Code Enforcement Task Force is here. Task force members began holding monthly meetings in January. The March meeting was on Wednesday.

Levine isn’t a member, but he attends the meetings. I have yet to make it to a Phase 2 meeting. But I have read the minutes of the February meeting and reviewed a city-produced draft of what’s called the “Residential Rental Property Program.”

Levine and I have discussed code enforcement so often that we understand each other even when we talk in half-sentences.

This isn’t the place to go into all the context of code enforcement policy in the administration of Mayor Ashley Swearengin. It’s sufficient to note that the Task Force’s Phase 1 led to passage last year of the Blighted Vacant Building Ordinance.

This law dealt with the exterior of empty residential buildings. Levine and his allies very much wanted Phase 1 to also tackle the interiors of rental units. Simply put, they said it was time for City Hall to craft an inspection/registration program that does three things:

1.) Renters get a place to live that meets all code requirements.

2.) The rights of property-owners are respected.

3.) The program is well-funded without ruining anyone’s bank account.

Swearengin said Phase 1 had a full plate with the blighted building law. She successfully pushed the inspection of interiors to Phase 2.

I give you a paragraph from the minutes of the Feb. 24 meeting:

“The Mayor commented that it is not realistic to expect the internal inspection program to be cost-neutral, and anticipates that General Fund money will be needed. Councilmember (Paul) Caprioglio noted that the General Fund is used for other services that include public safety and parks and he is concerned about where and how General Fund money is spent. He expressed concerns as to how the City will be able to subsidize this program out of the limited General Fund money available.”

Levine and I spent most of our Thursday conversation chewing on the potential politics of that paragraph.

Swearengin is termed out in January. Caprioglio, who is running unopposed for a second term as District 4’s representative, will be worrying about the general fund until January 2021. I’m guessing the minutes don’t to justice to the depth of Caprioglio’s concern about a perpetual general fund subsidy for an inspection program designed to make sure the private sector’s profit-making rental units meet code.

I’m guessing the other six council members, the three candidates for the District 6 seat and the other mayoral candidates also have strong thoughts on this issue.

On the other hand, the implication of Swearengin’s Feb. 24 comment is that the inspection program is probably dead on arrival if its full cost is to be borne exclusively by landlords.

These roiling waters are of immense interest to Levine because he and his allies want a strong inspection program in place this year.

If the past is any hint, Swearengin will unveil her proposed 2016-17 budget by mid-May. Budget hearings will probably begin in early June. This budget almost certainly will have to include the new interior inspection program. We’re already into April, and the Phase 2 Code Enforcement Task Force seems to meet just once a month.

To top it all off, voters in the upcoming primary head to the polls on June 7.

Levine and I were trying to read the tea leaves as to what all this could mean.

All I know is that Andy as he left me was one fired up community organizer.

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

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