Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld’s remarks earlier this fall castigating NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem at football games did not violate the city’s rules against hostile work environments, according to a memo summarizing an independent examination.
Bredefeld confirmed to The Bee this week that “the results of the investigation revealed that my comments on Sept. 28 did not create a hostile work environment.”
Bredefeld’s nine-minute tirade at the Sept. 28 city council meeting included describing the player protests to be “repugnant, disrespectful, misguided.” The speech also criticized “these million-dollar athletes” for protesting racism in the United States. “We fought a civil war to end slavery; white men died to free black men,” Bredefeld said, adding that “Jim Crow laws (promoting racial segregation) ended in the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, signed by a white president.”
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He also bemoaned the firing of the white police officer who shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 as well as the prosecution of officers who were eventually acquitted in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a severe spinal cord injury while being transported in a police van in Baltimore in 2015.
City Clerk Yvonne Spence, who is African American, told City Council President Clint Olivier later that day that she was offended by Bredefeld’s remarks, but she did not file a written complaint. At least one other city employee who works for another council member took offense, as well. The complaints prompted the city to hire outside attorneys to assess whether the remarks violated an administrative order against actions that create a hostile work environment. That order also applies to the elected council members.
The results of the investigation revealed that my comments on Sept. 28 did not create a hostile work environment.
Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld
Former Fresno city attorney James Sanchez and another lawyer, James Betts, were hired at a cost of $17,482, according to the City Attorney’s Office. “Any time there’s any kind of issue like that, it’s normal to have an independent counsel,” City Attorney Doug Sloan said. It’s an arrangement that avoids a potential conflict of interest between a council member and the city attorney who answers to the council. “It doesn’t come up very often, but it’s normal to do that,” Sloan added. The city’s 2017-18 budget for the City Attorney’s Office includes $175,000 for outside counsel.
In response to a query from The Bee, Sloan’s office last week declined to disclose the results of the investigation, citing employee privacy and confidentiality as well as attorney-client privilege. In a Nov. 16 memo, however, council members were notified that Sanchez and the city’s personnel director determined that Bredefeld’s remarks did not violate the workplace rules.
Spence has been Fresno’s city clerk for six years. Bredefeld served on the City Council for one term from 1997 to 2001, and was elected again by voters in northeast Fresno in November 2016.
At another council meeting two weeks after his remarks, Bredefeld faced two hours of outraged reaction from Fresno’s African-American community and fellow Councilman Oliver Baines – the lone African American on the council – who decried his speech as “divisive,” “inflammatory” and “ignorant.” A chastened Bredefeld later apologized for offending people with his comments.
Bredefeld said this week he still has strong feelings about athletes kneeling during the national anthem. “We need to speak about important issues facing our city, state and nation without being offended by different points of view,” he said. “I intend to do that and I encourage people with all points of view to do the same so we can come together and solve these critical issues.”
Spence is on vacation and could not be reached for comment Friday.