Fresno’s two candidates for mayor laid out their views on public safety, housing and a new police chief during an hour-and-a-half debate Monday evening in southwest Fresno.
About 100 people showed up at Gaston Middle School to watch Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand and Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea square off on a night when millions of others were watching The Debate – the first face-to-face presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. That other debate may have accounted for the scores of chairs in the school auditorium that remained empty.
Perea and Brand are seeking to replace Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who will reach her term limit at the end of this year. The election is Nov. 8.
Public safety was a hot topic, and both candidates laid out their plans for a new police chief when Chief Jerry Dyer steps down.
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Perea said the new police chief would have to embody the vision the mayor has for the city.
We are going to have the opportunity to select the next chief of police, and shame on us if we don’t do it right.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea
“Because Chief Dyer has announced his retirement from this community, we are going to have the opportunity to select the next chief of police, and shame on us if we don’t do it right,” Perea said.
The next police chief would stand up and would be picked with community input, Perea said.
“Just as you have your mayoral candidates standing here in front of you, my promise to you is that our final candidates for chief of police will be standing up here, too, answering your questions,” Perea said. “And I’ll be sitting in the back watching how they respond. Because that chief is going to have to connect with the community.”
Dyer, Fresno’s longest-serving police chief, said Monday night that he hasn’t announced retirement plans.
“What the candidate is referring to is the mandatory retirement date associated with the City of Fresno Deferred Retirement Option Plan,” said Dyer, who pointed to the November 2019 date in the plan. “Since this time is within the next mayor’s term, questions have been raised about how the next chief will be selected.”
I think we need the best and the brightest ... some promising rising star who has new ideas with better ways of dealing with problems.
Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand
Brand’s strategy for picking a new chief is to open up a nationwide search.
“There are some really good people in our police department,” Brand said. “You have a system that perpetually puts one person after another. I think we need the best and the brightest … some promising rising star who has new ideas with better ways of dealing with problems.”
Brand said cost shouldn’t be a top factor despite whatever financial problems the city finds itself in. “We have to pay $300,000 or whatever it takes” to get the best of the best police chief in Fresno. “It’s an investment.”
Both candidates said they would deal with slumlords in Fresno.
“You’re going to see a very aggressive code enforcement program. I’m not going to need a task force to tell me how to get to dealing with slumlords,” Perea said. Either the slumlords are going to fix problems on their properties, or “they’re not going to be slumlords in Fresno anymore.”
Brand said throwing money at code enforcement isn’t the solution. He said it’s hard to root out what housing is substandard.
“What is your definition of substandard?” Brand asked. He added that enforcement is inconsistent and ineffective.
Brand said the city needs to address issues in code enforcement like unkempt lawns having the same penalties as holes in roofs.
He wants to address three things with slumlords. One is to keep updating city ordinances. Two is to address code enforcement issues. Three is to find an effective way of doing inspections.
Watch Wednesday night forum live
Brand and Perea will square off again Wednesday in a candidate forum focused on downtown issues.
When: 6:30 p.m., scheduled to run 90 minutes
Where: Warnors Theatre, 1400 Fulton St. in downtown Fresno. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Watch it live: www.fresnobee.com; also Community Media Access Collaborative on the government channel, which is Channel 96 on Comcast and Channel 99 on AT&T Uverse
Sponsors: One Putt Broadcasting, the Downtown Fresno Partnership and The Fresno Bee. It is being presented by Wells Fargo Bank.