Fresno Mayor Swearengin to give State of City speech while eyeing Sacramento job

The Fresno BeeJune 23, 2014 

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, is a candidate for state controller. She will give her State of the City address Wednesday.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Fresno mayors usually deliver their last State of the City address in the final year of their last term.

Ashley Swearengin is trying hard to break that mold.

Swearengin on Wednesday will deliver her sixth annual update on Fresno's well-being to a luncheon audience at downtown's New Exhibit Hall.

"I'm looking forward to sharing the steady, aggressive changes we have implemented over the past year that are starting to achieve big results," Swearengin said.

But, she added, her message will include a call for "a prudent and balanced fiscal strategy."

Details, obviously, are to come. But this year's speech almost certainly will contain two themes undreamed of in the previous five.

  • The city isn't going bankrupt.
  • Swearengin, with 30 months left in her second term, wants to be working as state controller this time next year.
Neither is a secret.

Swearengin early this month presented the City Council with a $286 million general fund budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that didn't come wrapped in mourning bunting. She proposed a bump in services, the birth of a reserve worth the name and the final payment on a once-daunting internal debt.

At the same time, Swearengin ran an impressive race as a Republican candidate in the June 3 state controller primary. She cornered eye-catching endorsements (among them The Los Angeles Times), finished first among five candidates with more than a million votes and secured a spot on the November runoff ballot.

Her opponent will be former Assembly Speaker John Perez or state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, who are within a few hundred votes of each other but trail Swearengin by a sizable margin. Both are Democrats in a state lopsided with registered Democrats, but Swearengin is counting on her years of executive experience to be a game-changer.

Council President Steve Brandau said he's already told the mayor what he wants to hear on Wednesday.

"I hope she's very middle-of-the-road," Brandau said. "We're in better shape, but we're not in a position where we can relax. We can't act like it's time to have a party."

State of the City speeches from any Fresno mayor take a standard form: Thank yous, statistics, promises, human interest stories.

Details almost always slip into the narrative that bring clarity to the workings of City Hall.

Swearengin may talk again about homelessness. City officials in the past year razed four large encampments, three south of Ventura Avenue near downtown, one at the north end of Uptown. The camps haven't returned.

The city's invitation to take part in the federal "25 Cities Initiative" to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2015 is an indication that powerful agencies endorse Fresno's "housing first" policy.

And the new budget awaiting Swearengin's signature or veto pen includes a handful of council amendments that add an estimated $1.8 million of general fund spending. This includes $100,000 for the Fresno Arts Council.

The city 15 years ago spent $1 million a year on what it called "social services" funding for nonprofits such as the Arts Council. The funding was phased out, in part because distributing the cash caused envy and anger.

The potential revival of social services funding in what many see as a reviving local economy figures to be one of Fresno's looming financial challenges.


If you go:

What: Mayor's State of the City luncheon

When: Noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday

Where: The New Exhibit Hall, Fresno Convention Center

Cost: $40 for Fresno Chamber of Commerce members, $50 nonmembers

For reservations: http://business.fresnochamber.com/events

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

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