Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Larry Westerlund may return to Fresno City Hall

Larry Westerlund

Former Fresno City Council Member Larry Westerlund may be in line for the “Adam Smith Chair” at City Hall.

In other words, the largely thankless job of bringing capitalism to a city where for decades the only reliable road to the middle class is a taxpayer-funded job.

The chatter at City Hall is that Mayor Ashley Swearengin wants to hire Westerlund to lead her economic development team. The position has been vacant since Craig Scharton resigned at the end of August to open Peeve’s, his Fulton Mall restaurant.

Anyone who’s been around City Hall recently knows Swearengin is gearing up to push private-sector job-creation during her final three years in office.

I asked Swearengin about the rumors Thursday afternoon. She had just finished telling the City Council about her business-friendly plans.

Swearengin adroitly dodged the question. She said the city is understaffed when it comes to economic development expertise. She said such expertise is pivotal if business is to look kindly on Fresno. She said maybe something will break at year’s end or in January.

I called Westerlund today. He was termed out in January and now works for a local law firm. He sent me an email.

“I understand the mayor has plans to add an additional staff member to be dedicated to economic development,” Westerlund said. “I don’t know whether I will fill that role or not. I do believe it’s the right thing for a city the size of Fresno to have a person dedicated to supporting job creation.”

I have no idea the title of the position in play. Scharton was called the “business development director.” Scott Johnson, the former Fresno State athletic director who came to City Hall during Alan Autry’s second term, was the “economic development director.” Fred Burkhardt, who came on board in Autry’s first term, was the “economic development manager.”

Each of them made more than $100,000 a year.

By any name, the job is a tough one.

Jeff Reid, city manager under former Mayor Jim Patterson, said of the job in 2005: “This role is so multifaceted that no one background can well prepare anyone for the challenges.”

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