Fresno voters will decide on a sales tax hike to benefit local parks on Nov. 6
The Fresno City Council on a split vote Thursday agreed to send postcards to all voting households in Fresno with the correct Measure P ballot language after a week of hand wringing and sorting out how the wrong language ended up on the ballot.
Council members Paul Caprioglio, Garry Bredefeld and Clint Olivier voted no, saying the Fresno County Clerk’s Office and the Yes on P campaign share responsibility with the city for the mistake.
But the majority of the council — Council President Esmeralda Soria, Councilman Steven Brandau, Councilman Oliver Baines, and Councilman Luis Chavez — agreed the city should do its part to correct a mistake made by the city clerk’s office. The council voted to correct the language after the Yes on P campaign agreed to release the city from any legal liability for the mistake.
“We’re happy that there’s correct information on the way to voters. That’s been our primary motivation throughout,” said Elliott Balch, a Measure P supporter and the chief operating officer for the Central Valley Community Foundation.
Measure P on the Nov. 6 ballot proposes a 3/8-cent sales tax that would generate $37.5 million annually for 30 years for Fresno parks and cultural arts.
The city clerk sent a certified, executed resolution with a short version of the language to the Fresno County Clerk.
But the county clerk published the longer, correct ballot language in a public notice in The Bee. That notice gave 10 days for the campaign to review the language and make any changes and for groups to submit arguments for and against Measure P.
In the end, the shorter version ended up on the ballot, which the county clerk, Brandi Orth, said is still valid.
City officials, the county clerk’s office and the Yes on P campaign this week have worked to figure out how the mistake happened and what can be done to fix it.
Brandau broke down a timeline of where and how things went wrong on the issue.
On Wednesday Oct. 10, Balch emailed the city attorney’s office about the mistake. Soria and the mayor were made aware of the mistake.
The next day, after a regularly scheduled council meeting and closed session, City Attorney Doug Sloan, City Clerk Yvonne Spence, Soria and Baines discussed the mistake. At that point, Brandau said, the other council members still weren’t aware of the issue.
Brandau said it would’ve made sense to add the issue to the Oct. 18 agenda, a meeting which eventually was canceled, but Soria and Baines said they still were sorting out the issue and weren’t ready to make any decisions on corrective action.
On Friday, Oct. 19, Soria called a special meeting to discuss and take action on the issue. But the special meeting, scheduled for Monday, Oct. 22, was canceled for lack of quorum. Some council members didn’t feel comfortable voting on the issue after attorneys for Yes on P sent a letter to the council seeking correction post cards to be mailed out — as well as handed out — at precincts on Election Day.
Brandau said he relied on his experience as a business owner to come to his decision. “Despite politics, I believe it’s on us to fix the mistake we originally made,” he said.
The postcards scheduled to be mailed out explain why voters are receiving them and clearly say the mailers aren’t an endorsement of Measure P. Each mailer will include the longer, accurate ballot language.
Caprioglio, Bredefeld and Olivier felt the city should not bear the entire cost of the mistake.
“The county is not participating in the mailer being sent out, even though we believe they have some culpability,” Bredefeld said. “Yes on P is not contributing to the mailer. This falls on taxpayers we represent even though there’s culpability on others.”
The council members said the Yes on P campaign should’ve used the 10-day review period to make sure the language is correct. But Balch said since the public notice included the correct language, there was no way for the Yes on P campaign to know it would appear wrong on the ballot.
Soria said she would like to see the county clerk update the election website with all the correct information.
Balch agreed, saying the Yes on P campaign believes the county clerk could take additional steps to make sure voters are receiving all the correct information.