Fresno 'not going bankrupt,' City Manager Bruce Rudd says

The Fresno BeeDecember 9, 2013 

Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd

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Fresno's finances are precarious but not apocalyptic, City Manager Bruce Rudd said on Monday.

"We're not going bankrupt," Rudd told the Rotary Club of Fresno during a luncheon speech at Cornerstone Church's conference center.

Granted, Rudd said, the city is dancing close to the abyss.

But, he added, "the reality is this organization has always ran close to the edge."

So it went throughout a 20-minute speech and question-and-answer period: Rudd pulled no punches in his review of Fresno's challenges, but said nothing so dramatic that it spoiled a good meal.

Rudd went through a dozen or so topics with the speed of someone confident that his audience by habit keeps abreast of City Hall events.

The council-strong mayor government means "stakeholders" -- his term for special interests -- routinely play one branch against the other, Rudd said. A city manager who hates such an arena shouldn't get in the game, he said.

Rudd made sparing use of statistics -- no numbers on bond debts or budget deficits. He merely noted that, while the Great Recession of the past four years didn't help, Fresno's big problem for years has been its spendthrift ways.

The recent economic downturn highlighted "how much we were dependent on tomorrow's dollars to pay for today's services," Rudd said. "One of my challenges as city manager is making sure we keep our financial house in order while balancing the need to provide essential services to our community."

Rudd, who has 37 years with the city under his belt, was appointed city manager by Mayor Ashley Swearengin last summer. Mark Scott, his predecessor, resigned to take the city manager's job in Burbank.

The Rotary Club speech was Rudd's first policy-defining statement as the executive charged with overseeing day-to-day operations in the state's fifth largest city.

He delivered some old chestnuts -- City Hall and Fresno County officials need to work together.

He covered some old ground -- the police department, its roster of sworn officers shaved from 850 to about 700, must learn to do more with less.

He passed lightly over an old wound -- the failure in June of Measure G, the residential trash referendum, was disappointing but the people have spoken.

But Rudd for the most part spoke like someone unafraid of the pressures of leadership.

The 2035 general plan update's 45% infill development mandate is among the administration's highest priorities, he said.

The slow but steady renaissance of the city's parks system will not stop, he said.

The days of reserve accounts and maintenance funds holding nothing but dust are coming to an end, he said.

Rudd closed with a reminder that Fresno is a democracy. For all of the city's woes, he said, the place works.

"We wouldn't have made it through the last four years without the community's involvement."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at news.fresnobeehive.com/city-beat.

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