Lee Brand in his first 10 weeks as Fresno’s mayor successfully tackled the impossible.
Now he’s moving on to something really hard: City-County cooperation.
Brand on April 6 plans to host top Fresno County officials for talks on improving local government.
What’s that? You say “city-county” is another way of saying Hatfields-McCoys? The Mayor says this time is different.
“We all know there have been perpetual debates and discussions about consolidation and efficiencies,” Brand told me earlier this week. “And those things never got anywhere.
“But I always believe when you work with people, particularly on a committee basis, you get to know them really well. You forge partnerships. I think the same thing will happen here. There are many things we can do together that we can’t do apart.”
Brand said he’s been meeting with various county officials to discuss issues of mutual interest since he took office in early January. The April 6 meeting at City Hall is to be first of scheduled monthly meetings between the two powers.
The basic idea: If you formalize the talks, trumpet achievable expectations and throw in an occasional joint City Council-Supervisors meeting, then the politicians are compelled to produce something of value.
The Mayor’s team at this first meeting is expected to include Council President Clint Olivier, Council Member Esmeralda Soria and City Manager Bruce Rudd.
The county’s team figures to have Board of Supervisors Chairman Brian Pacheco, Supervisor Buddy Mendes and Chief Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau.
Department heads and staff will appear as needed.
Brand was kind enough to give me a peek at the first meeting’s agenda. Anyone who has watched local government for the past few decades could correctly guess the topics.
First, though, let’s back up for a minute.
Fresno City Hall is on P Street between Fresno and Tulare Streets. The Fresno County Hall of Records is on M Street between Fresno and Tulare streets. All too often, city and county decision-makers acted like those two taxpayer-funded palaces were on different planets.
Animal control is a relatively recent example of the two sides angrily going their separate ways, almost certainly to the detriment of the public. If I’m not mistaken, the city and the county some years back had a long-running feud over the marketing of tourism and conventions. I won’t even try to summarize the periodic police-sheriff and police-district attorney animosities.
Brand throughout his tough mayoral campaign against Henry R. Perea (a supervisor at the time) vowed to work closely with county officials. But once in office, Brand first had two political challenges to get off his plate. He wanted an inspection program for rental housing. And he wanted a citizens advisory board for the police department.
Brand got the first on Feb. 2 when the council approved the Rental Housing Improvement Act on a 4-3 vote. The Mayor solidified the second on March 16 when the council endorsed the Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board on a 5-2 vote.
It’s fair to say both items are of historic significance for Fresno. And both items, as the council votes attest, were hard slogs for a rookie mayor.
But at least Brand, from start to finish, was dealing with the self-contained world of City Hall. Fresno County government is a different world. That’s why city-county cooperation on big issues is so rare. When vital interests are at risk, each side finds it irresistible to simply walk away – or say, “See you in court!”
Brand said most of the supervisors endorsed him in last fall’s campaign.
“I know all the supervisors and consider each of them a friend,” Brand said. “There’s a different atmosphere. Everybody is optimistic.”
The Mayor listed six key city-county issues at stake.