With all the appropriate pomp and ceremony – including a jazz band and cheerleaders – Fresno City Hall said goodbye to a former mayor and City Council members, and greeted a new administration Thursday.
Mayor Lee Brand, who was sworn in Tuesday, battled a hoarse voice from a cold as he thanked residents for electing him in November.
“I am truly honored to have this great responsibility,” he said. “I give you my vow that I will lead this city with my head but I will always follow my heart, to bring all of the citizens of Fresno together as one.”
Brand also thanked his predecessor, Ashley Swearengin, for her two terms at City Hall.
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“You cast a long shadow that I can only hope to partially fill, to carry on the many things you did,” Brand told Swearengin. “You transformed this city. You laid out the groundwork for me to succeed.”
And he noted some of the obvious contrasts between him and Swearengin.
“I don’t have the charisma, I don’t have the good looks and I don’t have the hair,” Brand said.
But, he promised residents and the City Council, “(I) have no doubt about my effectiveness, no doubt about my courage and no doubt about my resolve to change this city and to follow in the footsteps of Mayor Swearengin.”
Brand previously served eight years on the City Council representing District 6 in northeast Fresno. His successor, psychologist Garry Bredefeld, took his oath of office Tuesday but reprised his swearing-in with Fresno County Superior Court Judge David Kalemkarian, while second-term council members Steve Brandau and Paul Caprioglio were sworn in by City Clerk Yvonne Spence. Another new councilman, Luis Chavez, missed the ceremonies because of a family medical emergency.
Chavez, a former Fresno Unified School District trustee who also was chief of staff to Councilman Sal Quintero, was elected in November to replace his old boss representing District 5.
District 7 Councilman Clint Olivier was installed as the council’s president for 2017, taking the gavel as part of a rotating sequence in which members take turns each year to preside over the meetings. Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, representing District 1, became the vice president, setting the stage for her to be the council president in 2018.
Prior to the ceremonies, the Bullard High School jazz ensemble entertained in the second-floor lobby at City Hall, and cheerleaders from Brand’s alma mater, Roosevelt High, handed out programs.
But Thursday morning’s spotlight fell squarely on Brand, whose inaugural speech followed farewell remarks from Swearengin.
Swearengin quoted remarks from her own inaugural speech eight years ago in which she proclaimed that “Fresno is making its move” and would be known as “the turnaround city” to bounce back from economic hardship.
Now, she said, “I believe those words are coming true.”
Swearengin’s voice cracked and she fought back tears as she thanked the City Council “for the incredible role you played during my time in office.”
“You are history makers,” she told the council. “And I sincerely believe history will record you as the most qualified, the most dedicated and the most collaborative council that this city has known to date.”
Swearengin offered a thought for Brand by quoting Abraham Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
“I’ve seen how you’ve been a steward of the power or authority that’s been delegated to you by the residents of District 6 and now the entire city,” she told Brand. “You are fair, even-tempered, you listen to both sides of an issue and you do not let power go to your head. … I couldn’t be happier to be handing the reins of responsibility for our city over to you.”
In his address, Brand announced that he has sold his interest in his longtime business, property investment and management firm Westco Equities, “to be a better mayor (and) to focus 100 percent of my energies on making Fresno a better place to live.”
Brand also briefly set out an agenda of things he wants to accomplish in the coming days, months and years, starting with “creating a citizens public safety advisory board to assist the Fresno Police Department move to community-based policing and provide more transparency and accountability to the people of Fresno.” The panel was a hallmark of Brand’s campaign that drew the ire of the Fresno Police Officers Association.
But another of Brand’s initiatives is to eventually boost the number of sworn officers in the department to 1,000, up from its current budgeted staffing of 801 officers, “and to continue to add firefighters and replace equipment (with) a plan that is based on developing sustainable funding sources.”
He also proclaimed his desire for the city to continue its economic-development efforts to create and bring more jobs for residents; to beef up code enforcement and support of health and safety laws in substandard housing; to move forward with efforts to revitalize older neighborhoods; to make Fresno more business-friendly by streamlining the city’s plan-check and permitting processes; to complete the development of a citywide parks and trails master plan to provide more green space for recreation; and to move forward with efforts to improve the city’s roads, water pipes and sewer lines.
Brand acknowledged that some bitter feelings may have lingered after the hard-fought mayoral election in November.
But, “the election is now over,” he said. “As of right now, the slate is clean. We are all in this together.
“This is not labor vs. management. This is not police vs. citizen. This is not landlord vs. tenant,” he added. “This is the city of Fresno moving forward as one, and I look forward to walking down that long and challenging road together.”