Fresno City Clerk Yvonne Spence has made an official complaint against Garry Bredefeld for comments the District 6 council member delivered last month at a council meeting.
Spence wants City Hall to take actions that ensure something like Bredefeld’s commentary never happens again.
Resolving Spence’s complaint, made verbally to Council President Clint Olivier, could turn into a City Charter issue involving separation of powers, freedom of speech and civil rights.
Bredefeld on Sept. 28 spoke at length during the “council member comments” period about his frustration with NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. His comments touched on political and social issues.
Many of the protesting NFL players are African-American. Bredefeld is white. Spence is African-American.
Spence sits at one end of the Council Chamber’s dais. Bredefeld sits at the other end of the dais. Spence told me she got up from her seat on Sept. 28 and briefly left the dais while Bredefeld was speaking.
Spence later voiced her complaint to Olivier. The two of them then met with Jeff Cardell, the city’s personnel director. City Manager Wilma Quan-Schecter eventually joined the meeting.
Spence met with me in her office after Thursday’s council meeting. Thursday’s council meeting included comments from community members sharply critical of Bredefeld’s remarks.
The nature of her complaint, Spence said. “was just basically how I felt about what he (Bredefeld) said – being an African-American woman, sitting on the dais, the only (African-American on the dais) since Oliver (Baines) was out of town. I felt personally attacked, just like people said today in the comments that they gave.
“I didn’t think it was the appropriate setting for him to voice those kinds of opinions. I think ‘reports and comments’ is for what’s going on in the city and his district, and that was not the place for it. And to go on to verbally attack African-American single parents, abortions – he just went from A to Z and I didn’t think it was appropriate. I thought it was out of line.”
I asked if she has a specific resolution in mind.
“I let them know I did not ever want that to happen again while I’m sitting up there because that was inappropriate,” Spence said. “I didn’t want an apology. I didn’t want any of that. I just don’t ever want it to happen again.”
I asked if she and Bredefeld have spoken about the issue.
“He asked to speak with me, but I wasn’t ready,” Spence said.
I was unable to get hold of Bredefeld on Thursday evening. Olivier and City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff both told me they can’t comment about personnel matters.
It’s there you have the big question for Fresno’s 525,000 residents, far bigger than the import of Thursday’s comments from the public or whether City Hall should revive something along the lines of the old Human Relations Commission.
The big question is: Does the executive branch through its authority over the workplace environment have the power to issue binding regulations on the speech of members of the legislative branch while they’re performing their official, Charter-mandated duties from the Council Chamber dais?
Taking the question one step further – If not the executive branch, then does the council itself have the authority to proscribe certain policy statements/opinions from being expressed from the dais by a fellow council member?
A resolution of Spence’s complaint could generate plenty of other issues and questions.
For example, the city clerk is hired and fired by the council. Did Bredefeld’s comments create a hostile work environment for Spence?
The city attorney is hired and fired by the council. Would an opinion from City Attorney Doug Sloan on the jurisdictional issue be a personnel matter, therefore not subject to public review, or a charter interpretation, therefore subject to public debate?
If a council member’s comments from the dais can be judged to have created a hostile work environment for a city employee also sitting on the dais, can those same council member comments be judged to have created a hostile work environment for a city employee who, for example, hears them over the Internet or listens to them on tape from the City Clerk’s website?
If Quan-Schecter, Cardell (both part of the executive branch) or a council majority takes formal action to punish or selectively silence Bredefeld, do the approximately 75,000 District 6 residents represented by Bredefeld get to first voice their opinions on the matter?
For the record, I have had many occasions to speak with Yvonne Spence and Garry Bredefeld on public issues. I have found both to be honorable, talented and effective public servants. Fresno is fortunate to have them at City Hall.
Bredefeld’s comments as I reported them last month in CVObserver come to 1,332 words. For the record, I give those words to you again. But this time, for the sake of clarity, I present them as a numbered list of sentences.
1.) As a veteran and someone who loves the military and this country, I find the kneeling behavior of the NFL players and owners during the playing of the National Anthem to be repugnant, disrespectful, misguided.
2.) They dishonor our country and themselves.
3.) It started with Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the playing of our National Anthem – apparently protesting police brutality and race inequality.
4.) Now, nearly all NFL players and owners kneeled last Sunday.
5.) (For example), NFL players on the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars took a knee Sunday during the National Anthem before a football game in London, but all the kneeling players arose for the British National Anthem, “God Save the Queen.”
6.) Alejandro Villanueva (an Army veteran and Bronze Star recipient who served three tours in Afghanistan) from the Pittsburgh Steelers stood for the National Anthem, but was later shamed by his teammates and coaches into apologizing.
7.) Our National Anthem and flag represent the men and women who gave life and limb for our country.
8.) They reflect their sacrifice so that we can live in freedom. They reflect our national pride and unity as a country.
9.) As a veteran, as a father, as an elected leader of many people who have shared their outrage with me over the actions of these multi-millionaire athletes, I’d like to say something about this.
10.) I have unabashed love of this country.
11.) Americans provide free education up to the high school level.
12.) Americans provide free meals in school.
13.) We give aid to other countries in need – Mexico with the earthquake and Africa with the AIDS issue.
14.) When we have won wars, we give land back and build up the (defeated) nation; we don’t have occupiers.
15.) We reach out to the homeless, mentally ill, unemployed.
16.) We give aid and comfort to those in need.
17.) Americans are governed by the Constitution and laws.
18.) Government belongs to the people.
19.) We are a republic and are not governed by dictators or a monarchy.
20.) Americans have the ability to achieve and attain anything.
21.) This country achieves through hard work and determination, grit and God-given talent.
22.) The sky’s the limit.
23.) We see that with these athletes.
24.) I, too, have grievances with our country.
25.) We gave a $150 billion deal to Iran so Iran could sponsor terrorism.
26.) We have weakened our criminal laws – Propositions 47 and 57 in California.
27.) We have people on death row for 20 or 25 years who never get the death penalty.
28.) We have gender-neutral bathrooms.
29.) There is the taking down of our statues and eradicating our history.
30.) There is the legalization of drugs in our country.
31.) There are 1 million abortions in this country every year.
32.) In the United States, black children are aborted at three times the rate of white children.
33.) Hispanic children are aborted at 1.5 times the rate.
34.) Whatever the intentions of the abortion industry, abortion is a racist institution.
35.) Why aren’t these athletes taking a knee for these children?
36.) Our police officers – our men and women who defend us every day against criminals, murderer, rapists – are under attack and being shot.
37.) In Dallas, five police officers were assassinated on the street.
38.) In Ferguson, Mo., a police officer was falsely accused of killing someone (allegedly) with his hands up in the air saying “don’t shoot.”
39.) A total lie.
40.) The officer lost his livelihood over a lie and a false narrative.
41.) In Baltimore, the district attorney called for the guilty verdicts of five police officers in the Freddie Gray case.
42.) All five were found not guilty by juries.
43.) I disagree with all of this, and yet I stand for the flag and our National Anthem each and every time.
44.) These million-dollar athletes, I think, are protesting racism in our country.
45.) (As to racism), we fought a Civil War to end slavery – white men died to free black men.
46.) Jim Crow laws ended in the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act – signed by a white president.
47.) This country elected its first black president with the support of white men and women, and then re-elected him.
48.) We have had a black Secretary of State and a black Attorney General.
49.) We have black CEOs and leaders in all walks of life in our country.
50.) We celebrate their achievements.
51.) We have, and have had, great black leaders like Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Dr. Ben Carson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown.
52.) Are we perfect?
54.) But to deny the tremendous progress and triumphs of this country in terms of racial equality is to deny reality and to only promote a false narrative for a political agenda.
55.) (When it comes to black on black crime), data show that 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by other blacks.
56.) There were almost 6,000 blacks killed by other blacks in 2015.
57.) In contrast, 258 blacks were killed by police gunfire that year, and that number decreased in 2016.
58.) In Chicago, a person is shot every 2 hours 17 minutes; murdered every 12 hours 21 minutes.
59.) According to The Chicago Tribune, by Labor Day weekend last year there were 500 homicides in Chicago.
60.) Nearly all were black men, shot to death in alleys and on street corners by other black men – not police.
61.) Heather Mac Donald in her book “The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe” writes: “A straight line can be drawn between family breakdown and youth violence.”
62.) (It’s a fact that) 63 percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes, five times the average;
63.) Ninety percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes, 32 times the average;
64.) Eighty-five percent of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes, 20 times the average;
65.) Seventy-one percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes, nine times the average;
66.) Eight-five percent of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home;
67.) Fatherless boys and girls are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to end up in jail, four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems.
68.) What should these multi-million-dollar athletes really be protesting and fighting to change?
72.) The culture of victimization.
73.) (These athletes should) stop promoting the belief that if you’re black, brown or any person of color, if you’re poor or from any other minority class, you’re an inherent victim in our society.
74.) Every person regardless of color or gender is equal under the law in this country.
75.) They can achieve success and realize the full potential of their God-given abilities.
76.) That is why people from all over the world want to come here.
77.) Promote hope and aspiration, not hate and victimization.
78.) We should be encouraging respect for authority and the police.
79.) If you are pulled over by the police, do what is requested and be respectful.
80.) The interaction will end well for everyone.
81.) Take advantage of the opportunity for education.
82.) Encourage fathers to be responsible to their children and their families.
83.) Seek employment, not dependency on government.
84.) While I don’t agree with what our President called these athletes, it’s clear to me that they don’t understand or appreciate the meaning of our National Anthem and the sacrifice that so many veterans have made to give them the right to disrespect the flag as they have done.
85.) I encourage them and the NFL owners to use their platforms, their resources and their energies in ways that promote unity, respect and pride of our nation, and to stop promoting racial disharmony and attacking our police.
86.) (Players and team owners should) speak truth about the violence in our inner cities, about the destruction of our families, about the lack of responsibility of men of all color who father children and then abandon them.
87.) Only when we get away from phony political narratives and agendas, and deal with facts, will we really begin to solve these problems.
88.) It’s my prayer today and every day that God continues to bless this country – the greatest nation on Earth.
These are eighty-eight sentences that, like them or hate them, have become part of Fresno City Hall history.