Election: Fresno County privatization measure fails

The Fresno BeeDecember 4, 2012 

The effort to fast-track the privatization of public services in Fresno County has failed.

Supporters of the privatization initiative, Measure O -- including its author, Supervisor Debbie Poochigian -- had been holding out hope that the initiative's narrow defeat on Election Day would be reversed by the thousands of absentee ballots counted since.

But the final vote count released Tuesday shows the countywide measure losing 51% to 49%. Tuesday was the state deadline to finalize election results.

Another outcome that came to light Tuesday was the contentious battle for the Orange Cove City Council. Two council recalls, targeting Glenda Hill and Frank Martinez, were successful as was the election bid of former Mayor Victor Lopez, who led the recall efforts.

The results return the controversial Lopez and his supporters back to positions of power in the small city.

Tuesday's election tally logged Fresno County's turnout at 63.8%, well above the 52.2% who voted in the November 2010 election but short of the 72% who voted in 2008.

The results also moved President Barack Obama in front of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who led in Fresno County on Election Day.

Measure O didn't attract the interest that other measures did, such as the county library tax or even the similarly anti-labor Proposition 32, which would have prohibited unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. But the privatization measure had far-reaching implications.

Introduced as a way to cut costs, the measure would have allowed the five-member Board of Supervisors to outsource county services with three votes instead of the four currently required.

The higher threshold, put in place decades ago by labor supporters, had stymied recent efforts to privatize county security guards and public attorneys for the poor.

Services at parks and libraries also had been mentioned as possible targets of privatization.

"The measure would have taken away good-paying jobs from Fresno County and hurt our economy," said Laura Basua, president of the county chapter of Service Employees International Union. "The voters have spoken and they don't want this."

The county's work force has hovered just above 6,000 employees, about two-thirds of which are represented by SEIU.

Poochigian was disappointed by the loss but said it wouldn't deter her from continuing to consider privatization as a cost-saving tool.

"I don't think we're closing the book on this at all," she said. "We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't look at every opportunity to save the taxpayers money."

Her efforts will get a boost when Fresno City Council Member Andreas Borgeas replaces Supervisor Susan Anderson on the board next month.

Borgeas, unlike Anderson, has supported privatization. Though he has not said what county services, if any, he wants to outsource, he could be the fourth vote Poochigian needs to press forward.

"I welcome him with open arms," Poochigian said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6679, kalexander@fresnobee.com or @KurtisInValley on Twitter.

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