Breaking down Fresno's Bonusgate

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

Mea culpa with no follow-up questions

City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff on Friday said Swearengin would not hold a news conference to address Bonusgate. He said the Mayor would handle her duty to Fresno with an op-ed piece.


I’m assuming Standriff is referring to The Bee’s Op-Ed page.

Swearengin on Thursday gave her side of things through Administration officials and an official statement: The money is part of negotiated contracts; the funds were identified in annual budgets approved by the council; the employees in question are underpaid for all their fine work on behalf of Fresno; if the extra cash weren’t spent, Fresno might lose these valuable employees to other employers.

Then, shortly before I filed this story Friday afternoon, Swearengin issued another statement. To wit:

“We dropped the ball.

“In the midst of balancing all the responsibilities of running the City of Fresno and moving major initiatives forward, we let the last two reports required by the City’s Transparency Act lapse.  As the head of the Administration, it is my job to ensure we are fulfilling all requirements, not only of the Transparency Act, but of all other local, state and Federal regulations.

“The act, which was passed in 2010, requires the City to post a list of the total earnings reported by all elected officials, executive staff and city employees on the City of Fresno website, as well as make printed lists of current payroll available at the City Clerk’s office.

“The Transparency Act also requires us to present a side-by-side matrix of the compensation for Fresno’s executive employees, which includes the City Manager, Police Chief, and others, compared to the same positions in other major cities in California. That’s an important comparison, because it’s crucial to the reasoning behind the bonuses that have many people concerned.

“On Thursday of last week, our City Attorney brought this omission to the City Manager’s attention, and the City Manager immediately directed personnel to pull the salary information required by the Transparency Act and post it by the end of this month. We will make it a priority to not only comply but to go above the mandated requirements to provide the public with the information they deserve.

“In addition to taking responsibility to ensure total compliance with the Transparency Act, I’d like to clear up a few things.

“First, I didn’t “hand out” bonuses. I offered City Manager Bruce Rudd a retention bonus two years ago as a part of his contract negotiation when he was hired as our City Manager.  It was important to provide the incentive needed to entice him to stay through my second term.  Subsequently, the City Manager provided performance and retention bonuses to several other employees, either to fulfill employee contracts or as a performance bonus.

“Second, the bonuses weren’t “secret.” They were included in employee contracts within Council-approved departmental budgets. No one received any money above what was approved in the budget.

“Even so, I admit that we’ve dropped the ball on making sure our Council was kept informed of staff compensation and updating the city’s local website to include current payroll information.

“We will make it a priority to not only comply but to go above the mandated requirements to provide the public as well as our elected officials with the information they deserve.

“And while we endeavor to maintain an open and accountable government, we won’t take our eyes off the critical issues in Fresno like crime, neighborhood revitalization, homelessness, poverty, and unemployment.

“The Administration is ready to work with the City Council to create more clear and specific guidelines to ensure total transparency in the future.”

  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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