Fresno City Council doubles down to end policy that gave raises to employees who quit

The Fresno City Council used its power to override a mayoral veto for the first time in more than a decade on Thursday when it amended a policy that allows raises for certain employees after they’ve said they are quitting.

The unanimous vote marks the first time the council has used the override power since 2007, when Alan Autry was mayor.

Mayor Lee Brand said he used the veto because the council rushed into the new amendment without first running it past him and the city’s top administrators.

The amendment adopted on July 25 is an attempt to close what some council members called a “loophole” in the Transparency in City Government Act, according to its supporters. Councilmember Garry Bredefeld co-sponsored it with Councilmember Miguel Arias.

After the veto, District 1 Councilmember Esmeralda Soria reacted on Twitter. “We need to override his veto!” she wrote. “This is about transparency and accountability.”

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. Officials have said the council has since discovered several more employees were set to get thousands of dollars in raises before the amendment passed in July.

The amendment eliminates retroactive raises and prohibits raises after an employee has submitted a resignation. The amendment requires evaluations of employees before raises could go into effect, and applies only to high-ranking employees not represented by a union.

The transparency act was updated four years ago during Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s tenure and while Brand was a member of the council. The change banned bonuses after council members became outraged when learning about $300,000 in bonuses given to top city employees.

Brand argued the new amendment didn’t live up to the act’s original intent, and said the council was micromanaging his administration. He has said the June payment to a leaving employee was a simple step raise that kicked in late because a department director was behind in completing an evaluation. It was approved by the city manager.

The council has recently approved retroactive raises for the city attorney and staff in three council offices, but those were for employees still with the city.

Brand has said he hopes department directors will stay on top of evaluations to avoid the problem in the future. The council and the mayor have increasingly butted heads over the past several months.

“Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war,” he said on Thursday.

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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.