Fresno County’s new top bureaucrat caught up in family squabble over mother’s care

Jean Rousseau
Jean Rousseau

Jean Rousseau, selected by Fresno County supervisors to become the new county administrative officer, will take over a bureaucracy that he has had intimate dealings with for much of the past year.

Rousseau, who has been Tulare County’s administrative officer, was named to Fresno County’s top post nearly two weeks ago. On Tuesday, Rousseau’s appointment could be affirmed by Fresno County supervisors. He is scheduled to start Monday.

Rousseau, along with his older brother and sister, have had to work through issues over their mother’s care for more than two years, he said. Their mother, 88-year-old Lizibet Rousseau, has had Alzheimer’s for more than a decade.

The siblings have been bickering over paying for her care and are alleged to have missed payments for her doctor’s appointments, co-pays for prescriptions, grocery bills and her caretaker, court documents state. She is now under the care of the Fresno County’s Public Guardian.

Court documents say that an Adult Protective Services investigation was started last year, but county officials refuse to discuss the matter, citing confidentiality laws.

Four of the five supervisors said that they didn’t think the court documents would change their minds about appointing Rousseau, despite not receiving documents about the family’s case until Monday.

It really sounds like a private family matter that’s no one’s business.

Debbie Poochigian, chairwoman, Fresno County Board of Supervisors

Those documents say that in early 2014 Rousseau’s sister, Georgia, was caring for their mother, but their brother, Albert, had reservations about the care she was providing.

By July 2014, Jean Rousseau was singled out by his brother as the family member responsible for the bills. In a document from late July 2014, the public guardian chronicled problems with the family’s care:

“Since the 7/7/14 hearing, the conservatee’s cable has been turned off, and the care provider has had to use her personal funds to cover the conservatee’s lunch; the care provider does not have money for co-pays and medical appointments and she is still not being paid on time.”

The public guardian’s office said it had “expected Jean to begin paying bills and ensuring his mother has money; not only has Jean not provided for her care, he is not responding to calls or texts from Albert’s attorney, the conservatee’s care provider or the public guardian.”

The court documents add: “Public Guardian has tried to work with the family, now particularly Jean, but it has become too urgent a matter to wait any longer for him to respond.”

Jean Rousseau said Monday that the issue is “really a family matter” stemming from a series of disagreements between him and his siblings.

Many of the issues started shortly after his father’s death in late 2011, he said; he and his siblings weren’t able to join together on ways to handle payments and decided that using the public guardian was the best option.

We felt, as a group, that we would stipulate that it go to the public guardian as an arbitrator.

Jean Rousseau, recently named Fresno County’s top administrator, on how his family decided to handle his mother’s care

“We felt, as a group, that we would stipulate that it go to the public guardian as an arbitrator,” he said.

County Counsel Dan Cederborg said that court documents he reviewed were abbreviated and may not have revealed all that happened.

“I don’t see anything related to refusal to pay for expenses by trustees … since there has been a conservatorship in place,” Cederborg said.

Cederborg said those issues appear connected to numerous family disagreements.

Supervisors said they are not inclined to slow Rousseau’s appointment.

“I have not seen information at this time that would justify a delay of any sort in the appointment,” Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said.

Board Chairwoman Debbie Poochigian felt the same way.

“It really sounds like a private family matter that’s no one’s business,” she said. “I haven’t seen or heard anything at this point that would keep us from moving forward.”

Supervisor Brian Pacheco said he wasn’t concerned about the issue as long as Rousseau didn’t use his position to influence future subordinates. He, too, said it looks like a “family issue” at this point.

Supervisor Buddy Mendes said estate and trust issues can “get hairy” and didn’t see it as grounds to stop Rousseau’s appointment.

Supervisor Henry R. Perea said he is awaiting a full review by Cederborg’s office before commenting.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin