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Lingering questions after City Attorney exposes Bonusgate

ALERT: CITY HALL SPENDS MONEY

As was the rest of Fresno when the Bonusgate story was broken last week by The Bee’s John Ellis. The Swearengin administration, fresh from patting itself on the back for saving Fresno from bankruptcy during the Great Recession, had paid nearly $300,000 in bonuses and deferred compensation over the course of three years to elite city employees already receiving handsome salaries and benefit packages.

But what, exactly, is the “surprise?”

Now that things have simmered in Fresno’s collective mind for a few days, Bonusgate is starting to look much different than merely another story of public officials getting fat on the taxpayers’ dime.

It’s as if that spreadsheet and how it came to be in Sloan’s hands were designed to hide more than it reveals.

The riddle of Bonusgate is important because the City Council on Thursday is scheduled to address the matter. Will the council debate be substantive? Or will it be a version of “Look – a squirrel!”

The agenda posted on the City Clerk’s website simply notes a proposed amendment to the Transparency Act. There is no accompanying report with details.

Council Member Lee Brand on Saturday told me that he and perhaps one or two other council members (maybe Council President Oliver Baines) will hold a news conference at City Hall early this week to present the proposed amendments.

I’m guessing the news conference will be Wednesday. Brand wouldn’t discuss the proposed changes with me. He will meet with The Bee’s Ellis a day or so before the news conference so Ellis can get an advance story into The Bee.

No surprise there. Brand has written many legislative acts and high-profile amendments in his nearly seven years on the council. He routinely met with me a day or two before the big public announcement so I could get an advance story in the newspaper.

That’s a good way to put a summary out there for other reporters to peruse before the news conference. It’s also a good way to nurture the bond between reporter and source.

What changes are afoot to what is officially called the “Transparency In City Government Act”?

That’s hard to say because it’s hard to fathom why the act, in its current form, is to blame for the controversy.

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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