Breaking down Fresno's Bonusgate

George Hostetter dives into City Hall amid Mayor Swearengin’s Bonusgate crisis, providing the backstory & questions from the fallout.

Taxpayers should thank the City Attorney for asking questions


Judging by my talks Thursday evening with Council Members Steve Brandau and Lee Brand, the controversy began in the City Attorney’s Office, of all places.

City Attorney Doug Sloan wanted to give raises or retention bonuses (it’s not clear to me if it was raises, bonuses or both) to some of his lawyers. Sloan went to City Manager Bruce Rudd who, as the city’s chief operating officer, controls the purse strings.

Rudd said no. Sloan asked about bonuses/incentives paid by the Administration to some of its favorite people. The Administration gave Sloan’s requests for information the cold shoulder. Sloan kept pushing. Sloan finally got two pages of names and numbers.

My copy of the documents show a total of $213,884 in bonuses paid in fiscal years 2014-2016. A total of $81,574 of deferred compensation (most likely contributions to a personal retirement account) was paid in the same three-year span.

Prominent names in the bonus category include Rudd ($20,000 in FY15, $35,792 in FY 14); Police Chief Jerry Dyer ($20,000 in FY15); Swearengin Chief of Staff Georgeanne White ($10,000 in FY14, $10,000 in FY15 – My personal opinion is that White, who has been a mayoral chief of staff for nearly 15 years, deserves some sort of medal for such endurance); former City Council Member/current economic development chief Larry Westerlund ($10,000 in FY15).

Rudd is the big winner in the deferred compensation category. He got a total of $47,307.60 in three years, including $20,499.96 in both FY14 and FY15.

Stan McDivitt, administrator of the City of Fresno retirement systems, received more than $50,000 in bonuses and deferred compensation. The retirement systems are a different animal than departments like Public Works and Police. It’s not clear to me if McDivitt’s money came from the general fund or retirement system funds.

Anyway, a lot of money got paid to executives at a time when Swearengin was preaching frugality and sacrifice to both rank-and-file city employees and the half-million Fresnans who saw their municipal services cut during the Great Recession.

Politicians have a tough time selling hypocrisy.

  1. The point is that these payoffs have been “dark money,” dark taxpayers’ money lavished on favorites furtively, well out of taxpayers’ eyes and knowledge. AKA personal slush fund

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