That great and common American accomplishment – the peaceful transfer of political power – was on display Tuesday morning at Fresno City Hall.
Lee Brand was sworn in as mayor, succeeding the termed out Ashley Swearengin.
Garry Bredefeld was sworn in as District 6 council member, succeeding the two-term Brand.
City Clerk Yvonne Spence did the honors both times.
More of the same, but accompanied by considerably more pageantry, is slated for Thursday morning in the Council Chamber. Brand and Bredefeld will again affirm their commitment to the rule of law. Luis Chavez, replacing Sal Quintero (now a Fresno County supervisor) in the District 5 council seat, will raise his right hand and swear fidelity to applicable constitutions/charters. Steve Brandau (District 2) and Paul Caprioglio (District 4), breathing easy ever since coasting to re-election in the June primary, will do the same.
Clint Olivier (the new council president from District 7), Esmeralda Soria (District 1) and Oliver Baines (District 3) must be content on Thursday with supporting roles. Each is halfway through their four-year term.
Two hours and the different nature of their respective offices separated the Brand and Bredefeld ceremonies.
Brand and Spence met in front of the Council Chamber’s front doors. About 75 people gathered to watch (a few no doubt had come to City Hall on other business and stumbled upon an interesting show.)
“Congratulations,” Spence said to Brand after the oath.
The new mayor stepped to the portable podium with microphone.
“Let me just say, briefly, that for me this is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Brand said.
Brand turns 68 in the spring. As he sometimes noted on the campaign trail, he grew up in Southeast Fresno with a fair degree of disdain for rules. Now, as the strong mayor in California’s fifth largest city, he is Fresno’s Mr. Propriety.
“For me,” Brand said on Tuesday, “many, many years ago, I never expected to be in this position.”
Brand spotted Gary Johns, a buddy from their Roosevelt High School days, in the audience and acknowledged his presence.
“I’m proud to be here, and I’m looking forward to the many challenges ahead for the City of Fresno,” Brand said. “I see a bright future for the City of Fresno. There are a lot of good things happening. I’ve got a great team behind me – some old faces, some new faces. We’re going to be a good team working together. You’re going to see an administration that is focused, and one that is probably going to be the most inclusive administration in a long time.”
The crowd’s front row was full of reporters and various cameras. Brand, clearly saving his best philosophical comments for Thursday, moved swiftly to questions.
Brand was part of a good-sized field of candidates that battled throughout the spring’s mayoral primary. He and Henry R. Perea in the general election fought for what seemed like months on end. What could the scribes ask on Tuesday that was fresh? Nothing, of course.
But Brand was the diplomat. He said he and his staff have about eight key issues they’ll highlight in the coming year – a “sensible, workable, effective rental housing inspection program;” creation of a citizens police advisory board; implementation of community-based policing; the hiring of more cops; polishing of the Business Friendly Fresno initiative; and jobs (“a major push for the entire term”).
Fresno’s two mayors over the past 16 years had a personal flair that stood out even in the overcrowded arena that is California politics. Alan Autry and Ashley Swearengin, to say the least, knew how to work a room or a TV camera.
Brand isn’t an Autry or a Swearengin when it comes to stage style. But Brand is a smart politician. He learned during the recent campaign to poke a bit of fun at himself. He did so again on Tuesday, noting that Autry was among those freely giving him advice on how to emulate Churchill in the spotlight.
“I said, ‘Alan, I’m not you. I can’t deliver that line like you can. I’m Lee Brand and I have a different way of doing things,’” Brand said.
“Aw, shucks, right?”
That got a laugh from those in the crowd who remember “Bubba” Autry’s countrified method of public persuasion.
Brand several times praised the work of Swearengin, noting that she moved Fresno policy-making in a new direction.
“I will continue to follow her policies,” Brand said. “The hard part will be the implementation part. At the end of the road, I want to see one Fresno, with opportunities for every citizen of this town, from the old area where I grew up in Southeast Fresno to southwest, northeast, northwest. It’s all one to me right now. That would make my heart feel good, to know that I’ve done something over four or eight years to really transform this city.”
To succeed, Brand must be able to count to four – as in a majority on the council dais. Bredefeld (who represented District 6 from 1997 to 2001) figures to play a prominent role as the legislative branch in the coming months recalibrates itself to City Hall’s new circumstances.
Bredefeld took the oath in the City Clerk’s Office with only family and staff present. He and I chatted briefly afterward in the District 6 suite of offices. He said it is “very exciting” to be back at City Hall as a policy maker.
“I’m very happy and honored to be back,” Bredefeld said. “It’s a tremendous honor to have people entrust you to represent them. I never took it for granted. I don’t take it for granted now. I’m very intent and focused to make sure we do good things for the city and District 6, that we make it safer and cleaner – a more vibrant and economically thriving city. That’s what I ran on and that’s what I intend to do.
“It’s just a privilege to serve people again.”
But the oaths of office weren’t the complete City Hall story for Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. I finished the day by dropping by the City Clerk’s Office one last time.
It’s a fascinating place. Spence and her staff on a daily basis provide to the public an array of documents highlighting how Fresnans go about the business of being free in the greatest country in the world.
On Tuesday I came across a conditional use permit application filed by Brad Bell, a pastor at The Well Community Church in North Fresno. Bell, you may recall, was a star defensive lineman for Coach Jim Sweeney’s Fresno State Bulldogs in the early 1990s. The church wants to build a 36,700 square-foot, three-story community youth center/church office. Raising the next generation the right way would be the goal. The “Dogfather” of Fresno State football would approve.
Michael Flores, the city’s administrative hearing officer, has a full calendar in January of appeals involving code enforcement. We all want safe, clean, affordable rental housing for Fresno’s tenants. But, as Flores’ calendar attests, there are two sides to every story. You may not beat City Hall. But in America you have the right to fight City Hall.
The A&N Investment Group has filed a tentative tract map. The developer wants to turn 16.2 acres at Hayes and Ashlan avenues in West-Central Fresno into a residential subdivision with 81 single-family homes. Maybe Fresno’s multitudes aren’t destined to all live in army barracks.
Sethi Management Inc. filed a development permit application concerning 2.1 acres at 7333 N. Fresno Street, near River Park shopping center. The plan: Build a five-story, 126-guest-room hotel with indoor pool deck, outdoor pool patio, dining room and exercise room. I walk by that empty field all the time. Weeds or hotel? Tough choice.
Then there’s the conditional use permit application filed by Rosalinda Morales Garcia. Turns out there’s a 1,000-square-foot building on North Weber Avenue, near Shields Avenue. The building is home to the Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant. The restaurant is currently licensed to sell beer and wine to customers for consumption on the premises. Garcia is asking the state for an upgraded liquor license that allows the sale of distilled spirits as well as beer and wine. In other words, Garcia is an entrepreneur who sees an opportunity and isn’t afraid to pursue it.
Elected officials are the stars in Fresno’s municipal government. That’s just the nature of City Hall and the media. I wish the Mayor and the City Council the best in 2017.
But, as the City Clerk’s Office proves every day, elected officials aren’t the essence of our city.