April 9, 2014

EDITORIAL: Swearengin's pick for new city spokesman is troubling

The hiring of the state Republican Party's communication director for a City Hall job by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is the kind of decision that erodes public trust in government and increases cynicism about our elected leaders.

While Mark Standriff -- tabbed by Swearengin as the city's spokesman and director of public affairs -- appears qualified for the position, his hiring is troubling because the mayor, a Republican, is running for state controller. To Fresno taxpayers, it might appear that the mayor cut a political deal instead of doing right by them.

Standriff, who will begin working for the city on April 21 at an annual salary of $125,000, told Bee reporter John Ellis that he will play no role in Swearengin's statewide campaign.

Given Standriff's résumé -- in 2012 he was spokeman for Republican U.S. Senate nominee Elizabeth Emken -- it's difficult to believe that he won't dispense campaign advice to the mayor while on the City Hall clock (and on the taxpayer's dime) in the days leading to the June 3 primary.

Taking Standriff at his word is to ignore the realities of politics and human nature.

Reliable players in both the Democratic and Republican parties shuttle back and forth between party and government jobs. Often times, they are "encouraged" to take a new position based on what political party officials believe will help the party.

Amid the often frantic pace of a statewide campaign, it's naive to think that Standriff would turn down Swearengin's -- or the Republican Party's -- request to help the mayor on an issue in the controller's race.

More likely, Standriff will do as asked. And if pressed by the media for an accounting of his time, he'll simply say that the work was done outside of his City Hall work schedule.

In addition to injecting the air of partisan politics into a City Hall that is supposed to be nonpartisan, Standriff's hiring flies in the face of Swearengin's "buy local" advocacy and championing of Fresno as a big-league city.

Not that we are surprised she went out of the area to hire a new city spokesman. She has used Sacramento consultants on all three of her political campaigns.

Apparently, in the mayor's eyes, when it came to the spokesman's position, none of the public relations and media specialists in Fresno had the expertise to put out press releases, locate the mine fields in City Hall battles or challenge her opponents on Twitter and Facebook.

The message she is sending is clear: You buy local; meanwhile, I'll do what's best for me.

In this case, what's best for Swearengin, isn't what's best for Fresno residents. Standriff's salary is nearly double that of his predecessor. This fact surely will anger taxpayers who care more about getting a cop to the house to stop a burglary or their trees trimmed sometime in this century than the mayor's ability to get her "message" out.

We've backed Mayor Swearengin on many of her initiatives and, on balance, she has been an excellent mayor. But she missed the mark with this hire -- a hire that suggests her governing sensibilities have been overtaken by her political ambitions.

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