It was only four years ago that city officials feared the Great Recession would force Fresno into bankruptcy. Fresno today is in much better financial shape, Rudd said.
“I am confident that Wilma, along with the support of this executive team as well as all of our employees, Mayor Brand and the City Council, will continue to move this city and our organization forward as they work to advance our economy, our community, and this organization,” Rudd said.
That’s when the Mayor asked if any of the reporters had a question. There were a lot of reporters in attendance.
Fool that I am, I thought Brand was referring to questions for Quan-Schecter. I’ve been to a few of these “here’s the next city manager” events. The person taking the hot seat always tackles a few “big picture” questions from the press pool before moving to one-on-one interviews.
Let’s see: Fresno; fifth largest city in California; 34th largest city in America; jobs; unemployment; workforce preparation; police; fire; sprawl; potholes; parks; public transportation; infrastructure construction; infrastructure maintenance; union contracts; citizens public safety advisory board; rental inspection program; Downtown revitalization; bullet train; Veterans Boulevard; Granville Homes; 2035 general plan; Fulton Corridor; Grizzlies’ stadium lease; homelessness; code enforcement; seven independent-minded City Council members (at least one of whom almost certainly would like to be mayor of Fresno come January 2021).
Did I mention crime?
All of it is coming Quan-Schecter’s way in 11 weeks, at which point the Mayor will have had all of six months in office.
When Brand asked for questions, I thought: Here is Quan-Schecter’s chance to show that she’s got what it takes to be city manager. The cameras are rolling. Fresnans appreciate a good human interest story in their city manager’s background. Mostly, though, Fresnans can live without the Oprah stuff. They simply want a sense that their city manager can deliver the goods in a brutal world.
The first question was from The Bee’s Tim Sheehan. He wanted to know what big issues were coming down the pike.
Brand did the answering. Budget hearings are coming up, he said.
I was still thinking like a dinosaur City Hall reporter.
“Let’s talk to Wilma. Wilma, come to the microphone,” I said. “Come the June budget hearings, have we got any money?”
Quan-Schecter: “We don’t have enough…. I answered your question.”
The cheers, applause and laughter were loud.
Foolishly, I kept at it. “Who’s going to suffer?” I said, referring to the department heads standing behind Brand and Quan-Schecter.
With a sigh and referring to a brief tussle we’d had at a long-ago news conference, Rudd took the microphone.
“I’m going to respond to your question,” Rudd said. “The good news is that everything we have done over the last three to four years to restore and rebuild essential city services will continue. As you know, we have been diligent in ensuring that whatever investments we have made were sustainable. George, you and I had a long conversation about that. The good news is that the upcoming budget is still sustainable. The services, and the level of services that we provide and the programs that we initiated, will continue. The challenge going forward, as you know, as a lot of us know, there are a number of other competing priorities, whether it’s more public safety or it’s more parks or, as you have heard me talk about, the cost of maintaining what we already own. That hasn’t changed. But over the next three or four years, as the Mayor has pointed out, investments and strategies that build the economy are going to contribute to additional revenues for City Hall, which will allow us to reinvest in our older neighborhoods, will allow us to reinvest in our departments and will allows us to lead this organization and, more importantly, this community forward. But it will take time. I think the fact that Standard and Poor (upgraded the city’s credit rating) in the last couple of months is an indicator of the progress that we’ve made. The fact that we’ve going to be able to restructure our debt and save about $1.3 million (annually, on average) is indicative of the work that we’ve done and it’s indicative of the work that the Mayor and Wilma and the Council will continue to move forward.”
It was worth being a cranky journalistic dinosaur to get that answer for 520,000 Fresnans.
Photo: Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee