Did top Fresno city staffer use city email to help political campaigns?

Tim Orman
Tim Orman Bee file photo

Tim Orman, the chief of staff for Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, sent at least one campaign-related email from his city account, raising questions whether he abused public resources.

One political science professor said the email is definitely a problem.

The email was sent at 5:40 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29 to District 3 Councilman Oliver Baines’ city email address and personal email address. Mayor Lee Brand’s city email was copied on the email.

The email subject line reads “Measure P Gives $1,110.33 to Miguel Arias for Council.” The body of the email simply reads, “Thought you would want to know this…” and ends with Orman’s email signature, including his title and city contact information.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Orman said the email wasn’t campaign business. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate,” he said. “It’s providing information to a council member who I work with on a wide variety of issues.”

A city administrative order prohibits the use of city electronic systems for political solicitations and endorsements. It also lists non-city business as an unauthorized use of city systems.

Orman said he doesn’t believe he violated any administrative orders “in any way, shape or form.”

The email referenced an in-kind donation filed incorrectly. Arias, who is running for Baines’ District 3 seat, paid for door hanger ads promoting Yes on P, a sales tax ballot measure to fund parks, and Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula. Arias’ campaign acknowledged mistakenly filing the donation with city clerk, but the Yes on P campaign filed the donation correctly.

Baines is termed out and endorsed Arias’ opponent, Tate Hill. Baines also supports Yes on P. The mayor, however, is campaigning for No on P. The mayor also endorsed Hill.

“Measure P has broad support from the vast majority of city council candidates, including Miguel Arias, who contributed an in-kind donation through campaign literature,” the Yes on P campaign said in a statement. “We are grateful to all the candidates who support Measure P and are listening to their constituents’ pleas for cleaner, safer parks in all neighborhoods.”

Arias declined to comment.

Baines said he didn’t consider it a big deal and also referred to the email as “informational.” But, he said he understood why some might consider it inappropriate.

“It’s political season so everything matters,” he said.

Brand, through Orman, declined to comment.

Tom Holyoke, a political science professor at Fresno State, said the general rule is not to conduct any campaign business from a taxpayer-funded email address. Government employees also shouldn’t be using publicly-funded cellphones for campaign business, he added.

“It’s certainly fair to say Tim Orman should not have sent an email like that from his city account,” Holyoke said. “ Arguably, the mayor and Council Member Baines shouldn’t be receiving campaign emails on city accounts either, but you can’t really blame the mayor or Baines because they have no control over email they receive.”

Orman, who worked as a Republican political consultant for years, was named Brand’s chief of staff in 2016. Last year he took home about $129,000, numbers from the state controller’s office show. Orman served as one of two consultants for Brand’s mayoral campaign.

Orman blamed the email controversy on “when one side gets desperate enough to drudge up an issue and try to get anything in the newspaper.” He did not specify who that “side” was.

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