Breaking down Fresno's Bonusgate

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

The City Council is (unsurprisingly) miffed

“There are a lot of moving pieces,” Brandau said of Bonusgate on Thursday.


For starters, everyone on the council is angry. You see, just about no one at City Hall knew Swearengin was paying all these bonuses. At least no one with the title of “City Council Member.”

There happen to be seven such people. And they’re the only people with a vote on legislative matters. Mayors generally like to stay on the good side of at least a majority of these people.

But not knowing of the bonuses was just the half of it, Brandau said. The council in 2010 passed something called the Transparency Act. This law requires the Administration to annually report the compensation of all city employees to the council.

The Administration stopped sending the reports to the council in 2012, Brandau said.

Brandau didn’t come right out and say as much, but the council appears to be mighty embarrassed as well as mighty angry. The council didn’t know about controversial bonuses paid by an administration that often is at loggerheads with the council. The law says the council is supposed to be informed of such bonuses by the Administration. But the council didn’t realize until late in the game that it had forgotten all about this law, one written by the council itself. So, the council never banged on the Administration door and said: “Give me the names of those bonus babies!”

“As far as the council is concerned, we’re not going to take up whether someone deserved (the bonus) or not,” Brandau told me. “What we find distasteful is the way it was done. It was a surprise to the council. We have a policy called the Transparency Act that is supposed to tell us the full compensation of every employee in the city of Fresno. Then we come to find out that has not been given to us for years.

“Maybe one of us on the council should have asked earlier. But the truth is we have never been updated.”

The Magnificent Seven that is the Fresno City Council appears to be united as one. Brandau said the council in the coming weeks will amend the Transparency Act to add more “full disclosure” mandates on employee compensation. He said benefit packages as well as cash bonuses and deferred compensation will be reviewed. He said the council’s Finance and Audit Committee (members: Brand, Brandau, Clint Olivier) may hold hearings on the matter.

“My guess is the council will look at an overhaul of all these issues,” Brandau said.

  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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