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Mayor vetoes policy that would end raises for Fresno employees who already quit

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The Bee has compiled a database that shows the 2018 compensation, including salary, overtime and benefits, for not only elected officials throughout the Valley, but also more than 45,000 public employees from local government agencies.

Mayor Lee Brand on Monday struck down a new amendment from the Fresno City Council meant to bring greater transparency to pay raises for high-ranking city employees after they’ve submitted their resignation.

In his veto letter, Brand said the council rushed into the new amendment without first thoroughly vetting it with him and the city’s top administrators. The council voted unanimously to adopt the amendment to the city’s Transparency in City Government Act on July 25.

“Neither myself, my staff nor the city manager knew about this amendment until it appeared on the council agenda less than a week before it was scheduled for a vote,” Brand wrote. “That is not enough time for the types of discussions necessary for this type of change.”

The move last month was an attempt to close what some council members called a “loophole” in the ordinance. Councilmember Garry Bredefeld co-sponsored it with Councilmember Miguel Arias. Both of them said Monday they expect the mayor’s veto to be overridden with at least a 5-0 vote.

At least one employee who left a city job received about $6,500 through a retroactive raise after submitting a resignation, council members said last month. Arias said the council has since discovered several more employees were set to get thousands of dollars in raises before the amendment passed in July.

“It’s a very common-sense policy not to give employee raises on their way out of city service,” he said. “It’s public taxpayer money. We’re accountable to residents.”

The city passed its 2019-20 fiscal year budget without hiring additional personnel for its public safety, Arias noted. “All of the sudden we seem to have plenty of money to give to employees as they leave,” he said.

The discussions over pay transparency first came about four years ago when council members learned former Mayor Ashley Swearengin handed out about $300,000 in bonuses to top city employees.

Some council members likened raises paid to departing employees to the controversial bonuses under Swearengin.

Brand was involved with the move four years ago to ban the bonuses. He said Monday the new amendment doesn’t adhere to the original act.

“I do not believe this new amendment complies with the spirit of the city charter,” he wrote, “and I do not believe this amendment has been thoroughly discussed with the city manager and other members of my administration to fully understand and address its long-term implications.”

Bredefeld pushed back at the mayor’s characterization of the council’s process being unusual, noting the mayor often puts items on the budget without showing them to the council.

“I believe (his veto) will be overridden; the council unanimously supported it,” Bredefeld said. “I never feel like I need to run things past the mayor.”

The amendment looked to eliminate retroactive raises and prohibit raises after an employee has already submitted a resignation. The amendment would have required evaluations of employees before raises could go into effect, and it applied only to high-ranking employees not represented by a union.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined the Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.
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