In the waning seconds of the Fresno City Council’s first budget hearing Tuesday, Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias made a startling announcement.
He was beginning preliminary work to have next Monday’s Fresno City Council budget hearing – focused on the Fresno Police Department – in the 2,351-seat William Saroyan Theatre.
“As a head’s up to the Council, we are evaluating the potential of having a council meeting and budget hearing at the Saroyan Theatre to try and accommodate an in-person meeting,” Arias said.
The Fresno Police Department, whose outsized budget usually consumes an entire day of inquiry during typical budget meetings, is facing additional heat amid national protests on police misconduct in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Much of Tuesday’s budget hearing was directed at the police force despite not being on the formal agenda.
Following Arias’ initial announcement, Fresno City Manager Wilma Quan interjected noting that there was still discussion that needed to happen before such an announcement could – or should – be made.
“The staff and our office will evaluate the options and see if that’s a viable option for us to have an in-person budget hearing in a room that fits a couple thousand people.”
The Fresno City Council has not held an in-person meeting at Fresno City Hall since April 9, much to the chagrin of Fresno City Council member Garry Bredefeld.
Tuesday’s budget hearing, conducted via Zoom, was initially hijacked by so-called “Zoombombers” who spouted off profanities before being muted by Fresno’s City Clerk.
Following Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Brand administration said it was consulting with Arias on the proposal.
“We’re going to have a discussion with Council President Arias,” mayoral spokesman Mark Standriff said.
As for the hopes of generating a mass-attended City Council meeting on the Fresno Police Department budget, Arias faces a few stumbling blocks.
First, the Saroyan Theatre isn’t legally permitted to reopen under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines.
Theatres and other mass-attendance venues are considered part of his final phase of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown.
Another wrinkle, ironically, is that that the Saroyan Theatre currently doesn’t have a venue management and concessionair firm under contract.
It’s most recent firm, ASM Global, is scheduled to have its new contract reviewed on Thursday.
And perhaps the biggest issue is whether the Brand administration officials and Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall will participate.
However, the initial posture appears to have rubbed the Fresno Police Officers Association the wrong way.
“It’s all optics, it’s all drama,” said Todd Fraizer, the president of Fresno’s police union.