Friday will be the last day at work for Transportation Director Brian Marshall.
That’s what Fresno City Council Member Steve Brandau told me Thursday evening.
Brandau didn’t say whether Marshall is resigning or has been fired. Brandau said he had heard rumors for several days from inside FAX that Marshall was leaving. He said those rumors jelled on Thursday into Marshall’s definite departure.
Brandau said he sent a text message to Mayor Lee Brand (with copies to City Manager Bruce Rudd and Chief of Staff Tim Orman) on Thursday, asking if Marshall was leaving FAX on Friday. Brandau said Brand replied with “yes.”
Brandau said he asked Brand if there would be a national search for Marshall’s successor. Brandau said Brand responded with “probably, but not sure.”
After speaking by phone with Brandau, I sent a text to City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff asking for the Administration’s comment.
“We don’t discuss personnel issues,” Standriff replied.
Rudd and then-Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced the hiring of Marshall in spring 2014.
Rudd in that era had been wearing more than one administrative hat, serving at various times as interim transportation director and parks director as well as city manager. Rudd did so out of economic necessity, as City Hall was desperately trying to balance its budget in the wake of the Great Recession.
It was in late 2013/early 2014 that city finances began to improve. One of Swearengin’s first tasks was to shore up top management by hiring permanent directors for transportation and parks. Marshall at transportation and Manuel Mollinedo at parks came aboard at roughly the same time.
Mollinedo left City of Fresno employment in December, shortly after Brand won the mayor’s race in the November general election.
Add in the recent promotion of Assistant City Manager Wilma Quan-Schecter to city manager (effective this summer after Rudd retires), and it’s clear that the new mayor is putting his own stamp on his management team.
To say there are a lot of high-profile issues swirling around FAX (Fresno Area Express) is make an understatement.
Let’s assume that Brandau is right about Marshall – I’m qualifying the statement until something official comes from the Administration. Would the Brand/Rudd/Quan-Schecter trio really go through the expense and time of conducting a nationwide search? Or would they simply promote Transportation Assistant Director Greg Barfield, former chief of staff to District 3 Council Member Oliver Baines and long considered one of City Hall’s most effective public servants?
Construction of the $54 million Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system continues to barrel along. BRT is supposed to be up and running by fall 2017. Cutting the ribbon on time is the least of City Hall’s challenges. BRT was sold to Fresno during the Swearengin era as a project that will revolutionize public transportation in the city. BRT also was touted as a system that can easily expand beyond the Blackstone/Ventura-Kings Canyon corridors to meet the inevitable surge in demand as riders and disgruntled motorists discover BRT’s virtues. The Brand Administration and the transportation director now have to make it all come true.
Then there is the traditional FAX system. City officials for decades have struggled to devise (and stick with) a workable strategy for delivering services. The problem is that policy-making for a public transportation network in a city as spread out and poor as Fresno gets pulled in many directions at the same time.
Should FAX have lots of routes or concentrate on the relatively few routes that enjoy strong and proven ridership? Should FAX operate pretty much 24/7/365 – after all, transportation in this day and age is becoming a basic human right? Can the 2035 general plan – with its emphasis on the end of sprawl, the relocation of the middle class from suburbia to high-density living in the urban core and the killing of the automobile as the primary means of personal transportation – have any hope of success without a robust FAX system?
None of these questions would be troubling if FAX was swimming in money. But, I suspect it’s not. I wrote a story in May 2015 for The Bee that said ridership on FAX’s fixed-route service had declined from 17.59 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to 12.01 million in FY 2014. My reporter’s skepticism makes me think FAX ridership in the last 35 months hasn’t returned to 2010 levels.
From my perspective, Brian Marshall fought the good fight for FAX. For example, in January he joined Rudd and Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro in announcing a new service called FAX15 – 15-minute intervals for buses along the most traveled sections of Shaw and Cedar during the day.
And any veteran City Hall reporter will tell you that being the FAX boss is not for the risk-averse. Just ask Ken Hamm.
Brandau, who already has one four-year term as District 2’s representative under his belt, has long shown a keen interest in FAX operations. He opposed BRT, saying City Hall would better serve the public by dramatically improving service on FAX’s busiest routes. He says it makes no sense to incur high costs to maintain routes with empty or near-empty buses.
Brandau told me on Thursday that finding the right successor to Marshall and coming up with a wise ridership model is pivotal to Fresno’s future.
Said Brandau: “The honest truth is – FAX is really screwed up.”
Photo: The Fresno Bee