This may be the last word on the ugly, profanity-laced email exchange between Mark Borba, a west-side grower, and Johnny Amaral, chief of staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, a Tulare Republican.
The email chain is best known for one sent from Borba to Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham that included a racially insensitive comment about President Barack Obama. That resulted in Borba stepping down as Community Medical Centers’ board chair.
But it seems a Republican who had access to the Fresno County GOP’s Facebook page was unhappy with Amaral’s comments.
Not long after the April exchange, someone wrote on the Fresno County GOP Facebook page that Amaral’s emails were unacceptable and he should resign from Nunes’ staff.
The comment — which wasn’t authorized or the official position of Fresno County’s Republican Party — might have been quickly erased and largely gone unnoticed. But there was a problem: local party leaders couldn’t take it down because they lacked administrator privileges on the Facebook page.
So it stayed up — for a long time — while Fresno County Republican Central Committee Chair Sandra Lakeman tried to get the administrator privileges changed.
Lakeman is the newly elected chair, and the leadership team of the Fresno County GOP changed as well. Things such as Facebook were never updated. Someone, or likely several people, from a past regime held those administrator privileges.
Two weeks later — after Lakeman had to prove to Facebook officials that she was the duly elected head of the Fresno County GOP — she was given administrator privileges and was able to take the post down.
She replaced it with an apology:
“The statement posted April 10th regarding the Chief of Staff, Johnny Amaral and Congressman Devin Nunes, was not an authorized message by the Fresno Country Republican Party. The Fresno County Republican Party values our working relationship with our Republican Party election officials. This was a malicious attack against these individuals.”
Amaral said he believes the current Fresno Republican leadership had no role in the comment, and actually finds the whole thing funny.
“I talked to Sandra and others at the Fresno County GOP, and I take them at their word,” he said. “No harm, no foul, in my opinion. We all got a good laugh out of it.”
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is adding his muscle to the effort to reduce the Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability benefits backlog.
In a bill being introduced Thursday, McCarthy followed up on recommendations made by a Government Accountability Office study he ordered. The study found, among other problems, that the Los Angeles VA Regional Office has a total of 25,322 claims, with 80 percent pending 125 days or later. The bill includes provisions designed to improve sharing of information, strengthen congressional oversight and increase accountability by setting a deadline for backlog reduction.
The GAO study found, among other things, that the average length of time to complete a claim increased from 161 days in fiscal year 2009 to 260 days in fiscal year 2012. Moreover, VA’s backlog of claims–defined as claims awaiting a decision for over 125 days–has more than tripled since September 2009.
Other San Joaquin Valley lawmakers have authored their own efforts to aid the delivery of services to veterans. Last month, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, introduced a bill that’s supposed to streamline VA centers’ access to veterans information.
Fresno City Council Member Steve Brandau offered gracious and well-spoken introductory remarks before Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s State of the City address on Thursday.
There was one problem: the first-year council member referenced a closed-door council discussion about the city budget, and city budgets are not supposed to be discussed behind closed doors, per the state’s open-meeting laws.
City finances are meant to be open for public debate.
Brandau explained himself Friday, saying that the private council discussion (or discussions) was not specifically about the budget but about something else that had financial ramifications.
He didn’t specify, but it could have been a topic that’s legally afforded privacy, such as a lawsuit or labor contract.
“Every decision we make is a decision about the budget,” he said.
Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos wants another two terms in office, and this week he threw himself a 70th birthday party-slash-campaign drive to underscore that point.
While it’s still a year and a half before the next election, Dictos is sending a clear signal to potential adversaries that he’s not the political lightweight that narrowly won the job two years ago. He’s become something of a force to reckon with.
More than 200 people attended the party outside his Fresno accounting business Thursday, and the crowd reflected a range of political interests, from Tea Party conservatives and mainstream Republicans to labor leaders and liberals.
Dictos has needed to broaden his support since taking office in 2011. He raised property taxes after finding county tax records out of date, and he ostracized many who didn’t want to see their tax bills climb, particularly those in agriculture, where taxes went up the most.
Many Republicans who helped put him in office, technically a nonpartisan seat, no longer support him and may choose to back another candidate next year.
Dictos has left the Republican Party since the backlash, and he’s now registered as a “Decline to State” voter.
“I always try my best to do the right thing,” he said during a speech at his birthday party.
Attendees included five of the seven Fresno City Council members, retiring Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell and state Senate hopeful Leticia Perez.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea and former Supervisor Susan Anderson were guests of honor — though both had last-minute conflicts and didn’t attend.
Backers of the ballot measure, which seeks Fresno voter approval to privatize the city’s residential trash pickup, began airing television and radio ads Wednesday featuring Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer, who casts the issue as one of public safety.
“There’s a lot of good reasons to support Measure G, but for me the most important is the funding Measure G provides to keep police officers and firefighters on the job,” Dyer says in a 30-second television ad.
In the radio spot, which is a minute long, Dyer adds: “The funding is essential to our police department, and without it, we could lose an additional 20 to 30 police officers.”
Yes on G consultant Tim Clark said another ad featuring Fresno businessman and Republican activist Michael Der Manouel Jr. will debut Thursday.
As the Yes on G campaign ramps up, Common Sense Information — an independent political committee formed by local Republican businessman Tal Cloud — is doing the same.
Actually, the Common Sense Information radio advertisement that also started Wednesday never mentions Measure G, though it’s clear that’s the target since a special election on the proposal is fast approaching.
On June 4, Fresno city voters will be asked to approve privatization of residential trash pickup.
“Now the City of Fresno has decided to give a contract to one company to privatize over 100,000 residential accounts with claim that rates will be lower once the contract is approved,” the radio ad says. “Can you really trust the mayor and City Hall to do what’s in the best interest for the people of Fresno or to do what’s best for their political future?”
In fact, the ad feels more like a broad-based attack on Fresno City Hall, which currently is occupied by Mayor Ashley Swearengin. The minute-long spot does eventually get around to the trash issue.
Already, Yes on G supporters are crying foul.
Clark, the Yes on G consultant, said he will file a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is the state’s political watchdog.
Clark said Cloud’s organization “is acting as a political committee for the defeat of Measure G, even though they haven’t filed as such.”
He pointed out a $4,000 contribution to Common Sense Information from the City of Fresno Professional Employees Association, which was reported to the Fresno city clerk as being against Measure G.
“The law states that if you are an organization that receives funding for the purpose of making political expenditures, then you must register as (a political action committee) and file campaign finance disclosure reports,” Clark said.
Common Sense Information is no stranger to controversy.
Last year, George Whitman, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the Fresno Unified School Board Area 6 seat, complained about a CSI ad that talked about a foreclosure and a bankruptcy.
And in 2010, Rep. Jeff Denham — who was making his initial run for Congress — complained about a Common Sense Information attack ad. But he never filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
Cloud welcomed the complaint.
“That’s good,” Cloud said. “I’m perfectly legal doing what I’ve done. That shows their incompetency.”
Cloud said the City of Fresno Professional Employees Association did give money to Common Sense Information, but it was wrong in filing a report because his ad does no advocate for or against Measure G.
As the forces for and against Measure G battle on the airwaves and behind the scene, a political mailer from the Fresno Police Officers Association landed in the mailboxes of “high-propensity voters” in the City Council districts of Lee Brand, Steve Brandau and Paul Caprioglio.
The mailer highlights what the FPOA says are millions of dollars in contract concessions to help the city’s finances.
But the timing — and who received the mailers — makes it appear like the FPOA is weighing in indirectly on Measure G, some political watchers said. The FPOA opposes Measure G and has given money to fight it.
FPOA President Jacky Parks said that isn’t true.
He said the mailer — which features quotes from Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, and former Mayor Alan Autry — is a direct appeal to council members and city residents because City Manager Mark Scott and other members of the Swearengin administration have stopped talking to the police union.
“We’ve lost confidence in the administration,” Parks said. “So we’re taking it to the council.”
Linda Penner, Fresno County’s chief probation officer for the past seven years, was appointed today by Gov. Jerry Brown as executive officer of the Board of State and Community Corrections.
Penner, a 58-year-old Fresno Democrat, was already on the organization’s board, appointed last summer by Brown. She also served from 2007 to 2012 on its predecessor, the Corrections Standards Authority Board.
But the Board of State and Community Corrections is being reorganized as part of Brown’s proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Under the new plan, Penner — who is the wife of Fresno County Superior Court Judge Don Penner — will serve both as the department’s director and the chair of its the board, which will be expanded from 12 to 13 members.
The Board of State and Community Corrections oversees various corrections duties, including financing for construction and oversight of county jails and juvenile halls, as well as professional training for corrections staffers and administering state and federal grants to cities and counties.
It does not deal with state prisons.
Penner will be paid $139,500 annually and will serve at the discretion of the governor. Her term will begin Sept. 1. In the interim, Curtis Hill Jr., a former San Benito County sheriff/coroner, will serve as executive officer until Penner starts.
She currently is paid $134,842 as Fresno County’s chief probation officer.
Penner has held that post since 2005 and has held multiple positions in Fresno County’s probation department since 1977, including probation division director, services manager, probation officer and group counselor.
Her new position requires Senate confirmation.
In the meantime, Fresno County is looking for a new probation chief, a position that reports to the Superior Court’s presiding judge. The position has been posted, according to county officials.
Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who said Tuesday that he’ll likely seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year, came to Fresno to criticize Gov. Jerry Brown’s program to relieve prison overcrowding in the state.
Maldonado said he will seek to repeal the realignment plan, which was enacted with Assembly Bill 109. Under the plan, state prisons are holding fewer inmates, many of whom are being sent to county jails.
“It’s not a realignment plan, it’s a crime victims expansion plan,” Maldonado said.
The Santa Maria Republican held a news conference outside the Hall of Records in downtown Fresno as part of the kickoff campaign. Maldonado said he would seek signatures to qualify his plan for a ballot initiative next year.
As for a gubernatorial run, Maldonado said “I’m pretty much in.”
After leaving Fresno, Maldonado went to Bakersfield.
The Fresno City Council has taken another crack at resolving a city charter problem: How does the mayor get confidential legal advice?
The council’s answer: Maintain the status quo, but pretend it’s something new.
The council on Thursday approved a resolution that outlines the rules when the city attorney does business with the Mayor’s Office.
In short, the city attorney will serve the mayor when called and keep the talks confidential, but only until the city attorney figures it’s time to tell the council everything that was said.
Since it’s the council that hires and fires the city attorney — and the city attorney usually is fond of staying employed — it’s far from clear whether the new rules will advance city attorney-mayor trust.
This issue goes back about 20 years. That’s when a committee of community leaders proposed a new form of government for Fresno. In the end, voters decided to scrap the council-manager government and go with a strong mayor.
There would be two equal branches at City Hall — legislative (seven council members) and executive (mayor). Jim Patterson took office in January 1997 as city’s first strong mayor.
A major sticking point in the charter debate was the City Attorney’s Office. This office in part would serve as a quasi-Supreme Court, weighing in on legal conflicts between the two branches. The city attorney’s opinion wouldn’t be final, but would carry much weight.
The council in the council-manager government hired and fired the city manager. That meant the council controlled just about everything.
But everyone recognized that a strong-mayor government would greatly change the focus of power at City Hall. More than 16 years of real-world experience has confirmed this analysis. Council members from the get-go have complained that the strong mayor, with its control of the purse strings and the bureaucracy, has too much power.
The original Charter Review Committee said the City Attorney’s Office should be under the mayor’s authority. The City Council in the early 1990s said no, the office should stay under the council’s umbrella.
Fresno’s voters approved a revised charter that gave the council the authority to hire and fire the city attorney.
The effect has been to turn the City Attorney’s Office into a potential stool pigeon. The city attorney, as Thursday’s resolution makes clear, serves the entire city government. But the city attorney can have only one boss, and that (per the city charter) is the City Council. If the city attorney meets privately with the mayor, and the council later asks the city attorney to tell all, the city attorney has no legal authority to keep quiet.
As Mayor Ashley Swearengin has made clear, this does not build trust in the Mayor’s Office.
All of this came to a head in 2010 when Council Member Lee Brand and then-Council Member Andreas Borgeas (now a Fresno County supervisor) got the council to approve the creation of a new Charter Review Committee. Their thinking was that the charter hadn’t had a top-to-bottom review in years — and it was time for one.
A team of community leaders held months of hearings. Voters last year approved several charter changes dealing mostly with financial matters.
The city attorney-mayor relationship briefly played a role in the committee’s work. One of the potential charter amendments debated early in the process would have given the Mayor’s Office its own legal counsel. Committee members also briefly discussed whether the mayor should have money and authority to hire outside counsel on an as-needed basis.
The committee and City Council rejected such ideas. One of their concerns was the impact on city affairs if the City Attorney’s Office and the mayor’s lawyer came up with conflicting opinions.
But the problem persisted: How does Swearengin, or any or her successors, get good legal advice on complex matters (which mostly likely have a high degree of political volatility) without the city attorney blabbing it all to the council before day’s end?
Fresnans saw the latest fix on Thursday. The resolution’s first two points say it all:
“1. The City Attorney shall provide timely, complete information to the Council pertaining to all matters within the Council’s jurisdiction, as provided herein.
“2. The City Attorney shall be free to communicate with and preliminarily advise Councilmembers, the Mayor, City Manager, and staff on all City legal matters without the necessity of the City Attorney sharing the substance or fact of those communications and advice with the entire Council until such time as the City Attorney reasonably believes there is an immediate need for the Council to be informed, or such a matter may be brought before the Council for its consideration.”
Near as I can tell, the resolution leaves everyone right where they started.
Doug Sloan, the current city attorney, has always been available to Swearengin and City Manager Mark Scott for legal advice.
But Sloan (like city managers in the old form of government) always has to be able to count to four when he comes to work. He’s got to keep a council majority on his side to keep his job. Council majorities don’t like to be blindsided by mayoral politics.
Council majority: “Hey, Doug, what’s the mayor talking to you about?”
Doug: “Funny you should ask. I’ve just decided that, based on your May 9, 2013 resolution, it’s my reasonable belief that the mayoral communication to me has suddenly risen to the level where the council must be immediately informed of the content.”
Sloan in a Friday phone conversation acknowledged that serving two clients when only one can hire/fire him “requires some judgment.” He said he anticipates no problems.
For example, Sloan said, he’d tell the council if Swearengin is considering something that may get the city sued.
I thought to myself: What action at City Hall doesn’t involve that risk?
Sloan said he’d first tell the mayor if he was going to divulge any of their business to the council.
“It wouldn’t be a behind-the-back kind of thing,” Sloan said.
I thought to myself: Only a very innocent mayor would assume anything said to the city attorney would stay confidential.
Council Member Brand said the answer isn’t dueling city attorneys. The answer, he said, is a compromise.
The City Council should have authority to approve the mayor’s choice for city manager.
And the mayor should have authority to approve the council’s choice for city attorney.
The council, however, would retain sole authority to fire the city attorney and the mayor would have sole authority to fire the city manager.
“That’s your check and balance,” Brand said.
It’ll all have to wait until there’s money and political will to amend the charter, Brand added.
This may seem like a tempest in a teapot. But rest assured that the city attorney’s role in the strong-mayor form of government is taken quite seriously at City Hall.
More than three years ago, the council and then-City Manager Andy Souza got into a seven-hour budget debate that centered on the legal and political definition of “materiality.”
Anybody who saw a frustrated Souza ask for a 15-minute recess so he could meet with then-City Attorney Jim Sanchez behind closed doors knows what I mean.
I guarantee a printed resolution was of no help in that chat.
Three Fresno County supervisors think the county inappropriately used public funds last year to politick for the Measure B library tax. They wrote the Measure B campaign recently, asking it to pay the county back.
This week the campaign gave them an answer: No.
In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, the former head of the Committee for Measure B said the campaign didn’t ask the county for any money or materials last year and therefore doesn’t owe the county a dime.
Plus, the letter said, the Measure B campaign spent all its funds and has since disbanded.
At issue is a mailer that the county spent tens of thousands of dollars to send to voters last fall. The piece was meant to inform people about Measure B, which is legal to do, but Supervisors Andreas Borgeas, Debbie Poochigian and Phil Larson say the piece advocated for the measure, which isn’t legal.
Measure B passed with more than 70% of the vote. It renewed a one-eighth cent sales tax that generates about half the funding for the 26-branch library system.
Borgeas supported Measure B, but he remains adamant that the county should not bear the costs of the campaign. He said Friday that supervisors had just received the campaign’s response and they were figuring out their next step.
Borgeas was not on the Board of Supervisors last year, having begun his term in January.
“This is less about Measure B and more about how county resources and taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used for political purposes,” he said. “It’s our job to make certain something like this doesn’t happen again.”