In a rare showing of conflict, a few members of the Clovis City Council launched into a set of attacks stemming from a press conference calling for the reopening of Valley schools.
At the center of the controversy: Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger’s decision to participate in a Thursday press conference with Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld and former Mayor Alan Autry calling for schools to reopen.
Bessinger, who simultaneously serves as the Police Chief for Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (a City of Fresno agency), took vacation from his day job to attend the press conference, a City of Fresno spokesman told The Sun.
Toward the end of Monday night’s Clovis City Council meeting, Clovis City Councilwoman Lynne Ashbeck criticized Bessinger for his decision to attend.
Ashbeck is a Senior Vice President for Valley Children’s Hospital, whose officials sparred with Bredefeld following the press conference on the topic of returning-to-instruction.
“I was stunned by that participation,” Ashbeck said of Bessinger’s attendance. “Our city participated in a City of Fresno press conference with two council members and a former Mayor asking for schools to reopen.”
“I feel like the City of Clovis took a stand with two council members that I don’t particularly want to align with, and so I feel like I took a stand. As an individual council member, you represented me and all of us.”
Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld didn’t mince words about Ashbeck’s chiding on Monday.
“Councilmember Ashbeck ought to be concerned about aligning herself with her constituents – which she hasn’t been doing since the pandemic started,” Bredefeld told The Sun on Tuesday. “She opposed businesses to be able to open, in stark contrast to her four other colleagues who supported businesses opening. She also opposes giving parents the choice to returning their children back to the classroom within the Clovis School District.”
“Rather than chastising in a very demeaning way Mayor Bessinger speaking in support of children and Clovis Unified, she ought to focus on who elected her and representing her constituents instead of supporting Gov. Newsom’s efforts at destroying businesses and livelihoods in Clovis.”
Councilman Mike Karbassi, Bredefeld’s colleague, expressed disappointment at the attack.
“If we are going to come together as a community to beat COVID and all the havoc it’s causing to businesses, families and kids then we’re going to have to be able to have tough conversations without tearing each other down,” the northwest Fresno councilman said. “My office is always open to Councilmember Ashbeck whenever she wants to get together and hash this out in a civilized manner.”
Following Ashbeck’s initial comments, Clovis City Councilman Vong Mouanoutua commented that he supported Bessinger’s view of giving parents the option of returning children to the classroom – remarking that a television wouldn’t teach his five-year-old – Ashbeck shifted and clarified that her concern was centered on Bessinger’s decision to get involved, not his message.
“I felt like you were used by Garry Bredefeld and in that way the City of Clovis was used to add credibility to a message that – do you wanna beat Fresno Unified up?” she added.
Jose Flores, the longest-serving Council member, rebuked Ashbeck’s attack on Bessinger.
“We have all taken independent political stances. No one has challenged our political stances on the dais – ever. So yes, things have changed,” Flores said. “But the only person that has changed changed is, Lynne, is you.”
Flores clarified that, contrary to Ashbeck’s view, there was not uniformity in the view of return-to-instruction, noting Clovis Unified’s short-lived effort to give parents the option of returning children to school.
He added that, based on Clovis’ history, there was no need for coordinating a position with Bessinger.
“Everyone of us can have an opinion. We’ve heard Vong’s opinion, we’ve heard the Mayor’s opinion,” Flores said to Ashbeck.
“Just because you have your opinion, doesn’t make you the queen of Clovis.”