INFLUENCE BY PRESENCE?
That’s when I asked why Paul Swearengin, the Mayor’s husband, was sitting next to Frazier during the Al Radka contract negotiations.
“Is that where you’re going with this whole thing?” Frazier said.
I said Paul Swearengin didn’t inspire the story. I’d begun work on the story before I knew the Mayor’s husband was chairman of the Central Cal board or had been present during Al Radka contract negotiations.
But, I told Frazier, once I discovered those two facts – and, in particular, the fact that Paul Swearengin had been sitting across from Parks Director Mollinedo when Mollinedo was negotiating on behalf of the Swearengin Administration and the public – then, yes, I was very intent on seeing where this line of questioning might lead.
Frazier said I was wrong to think Paul Swearengin had done any talking.
“Paul was sitting in the room when Manuel and I were talking,” Frazier said. “The conversation was strictly between me and Manuel, when I told Manuel I didn’t like the contract he had written and he needed to change some parts of the language. I felt the way the contract was written we had no chance of success at Al Radka.”
Frazier said he got the changes he wanted.
“It got changed to where I’m actually going to be giving to the city more money than what they were asking,” Frazier said. “I’m giving them more money because I want them to stay involved in the maintenance of the facility.
“The way they’d written it up, I was going to have to do all of the maintenance and then I had to give the city a portion of everything I was going to bring in – which would have been an accounting nightmare.
“So I said, ‘No, I’d rather give you guys some more money and have you guys be a part of the maintenance. And after the second year I can see if we have to be giving you even more to take over all of the maintenance.’
“Because in my opinion I think the city should be more involved in these parks. I don’t think nonprofit baseball academies, nonprofit (groups), should be running parks. In most cities, the cities run parks. Fresno is a little bit different.”
Frazier had a tough youth on the streets of Oakland. He founded Central Cal Baseball Academy some 20 years ago to help youngsters like himself. He told me the academy has youngsters from a variety of backgrounds.
But the struggling kids clearly are dearest to his heart. He said Paul Swearengin’s work on the academy board is motivated by the same concerns.
“It’s not about who’s on our board or who’s the chairman because that just brings up more drama to a situation,” Frazier said. “I’m just being real with you. It’s puts a dirty taste in people’s mouths.
“Paul didn’t negotiate anything. I was on that side of town. I told Manuel, ‘Meet me over there at Paul’s office.’ I did the negotiations. I do all the negotiations for Central Cal. When Central Cal didn’t have the money, I put up the money. So I do all of the negotiations. As a matter of fact, Paul can’t do the negotiations. He’s the chair of the board. They (board members) are my boss. I work for the board.”
Fair point, I told Frazier. But then we returned to my basic point: The Mayor’s husband was sitting across the negotiating table from a department head whose job depends on the city manager, whose job, in turn, depends on the Mayor’s good will.
I said it might not be the public’s business which boards Paul Swearengin sits on. But I added, I think the public has a right to know when the Mayor’s husband decides to join forces with the other side during rather adversarial negotiations over the future of a public asset like Al Radka Park.
What Fresnans do with that information is their business, I said.
”You’re totally right, George,” Frazier said. “We have to be transparent in everything we do. But I can say Central Cal has been around for 20 years. He has been chairman I think maybe for less than a year.”
Frazier said the key is to take a close look at the approved contract.
“The ironic part about this is, when you look at that, someone could go, ‘Maybe Paul is helping them get stuff,’” Frazier said. “Then you go, ‘Wait a second. The city isn’t giving them anything.’”
Frazier said the city should spend more general fund dollars on parks maintenance.
“I don’t think it’s right that nonprofits or for-profits have to go in and take over parks,” Frazier said. “I think what she (Mayor Swearengin) did (in the Great Recession) is absolutely correct. We didn’t have the funds. But once you get flush with funds, then I think you need to go back and help these nonprofits or take back the parks.
“This is my honest opinion, which I have told the board on many occasions – I think it would be very difficult for any nonprofit to take over a park and make it run successfully. I also stated that to Manuel.
“I said, ‘Manuel, I need you guys to be side-by-side with me with this Al Radka Park.’ I’ve done a lot of projects in my life, and this is the one that scares me. There’s no way you can make money out there and keep the park in the proper working order. I don’t understand how these nonprofits do it. The only reason I would do it is because I have Granite Park. If there are extra funds from Granite Park, I know I’m going to have to subsidize Al Radka.
“I’m doing everything I can to do what I feel the city should be doing.”
Frazier said he has the highest regard for the Mayor and the City Council.
I asked Mark Standriff, the city’s communications director, if the Mayor wanted to comment for this story. If she did, he said, she would issue a statement to me.
I left two phone messages for Paul Swearengin on Tuesday, asking him to call me. He didn’t.
Thank you for the column George. You are absolutely right to be concerned about a potential conflict of interest in this situation. Any outsider looking at something like this involving the Mayor’s husband would think there was shenanigans.
That being said, I know both Mr. Frazier and Mr. Swearengin. I can say with as much certainty as I have that this is a from the heart project for both. I have not met or know two better people in my life. I know Terrance and Paul are community based individuals that I would have no question trusting with my own kids and property. I am envious of both with respect to their honesty and sincerity. I can only hope and pray to be considered their peer. I know that sounds like lofty praise, but like I said I know them both. I have seen them in situations where doing the “right thing” was the only thing considered. This opportunity is great for Fresno youth. Terrance has proved his commitment to Fresno 100 times over. He walks the walk in all that I have seen him do.
You are right to ask the questions. The lost art of journalism depends on you doing so. Shining a light on the project should not be an issue.