In recent months, two of Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s top staffers have quietly transitioned into new jobs at City Hall as she approaches the end of her second term.
Swearengin and City Manager Bruce Rudd say that the promotions of Georgeanne White to assistant director of the public utilities department and Kelli Furtado to assistant director of the development and resource management department are based on their skills and department needs – and not a “soft landing” for the mayor’s staff as Swearengin approaches the end of her time in office.
White was Swearengin’s chief of staff before starting her new job in July and previously served as chief of staff to Mayor Alan Autry. Furtado was the mayor’s deputy chief of staff and moved to the development department in April.
White is now one of three assistant directors reporting to Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda, and will be focusing her attention on policy and legal issues related to water allocations, as well as grants and water legislation, Rudd said. She will not be involved in any technical or operational aspects of the department’s solid waste, waste water or drinking water divisions.
Swearengin said White has, through two mayoral administrations, become a subject-matter expert on water issues involving the city – from the San Joaquin River Restoration settlement during the Autry administration to her work maximizing what few federal surface water allocations have come Fresno’s way during the past five years of drought. In addition to being the mayor’s key adviser on water-related issues, White was also designated by Swearengin to represent the city on the Friant Water Authority board when Fresno joined the agency two years ago.
“She has basically kicked people’s butts on behalf of the city” on water issues, Swearengin said of White.
The organization is lucky that they’re willing to stick around because frankly it’s more punishment than reward, and I’m not kidding.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin, on promotions of Georgeanne White and Kelli Furtado to assistant department director positions
Furtado, the daughter of a building contractor, was the mayor’s go-to person to sort out Fresno’s tangled problems accounting for federal Housing and Urban Development grants as well as other complex administrative issues over the past three to four years, Swearengin said.
“It’s been well publicized that for decades we have not properly administered our federal entitlement programs, and our most recent HUD audits have demonstrated that,” Swearengin said. “When there has been an issue area that is very detailed and very messed up, Kelli is the person I put on that.” Furtado has also been the mayor’s representative dealing with code enforcement, sustainability and neighborhood revitalization – all areas that fall under the jurisdiction of Development and Resources Management, but for whom department director Jennifer Clark had no assistant director to oversee.
“You put all those things together, and heck yes, you need an assistant director for that,” Swearengin said.
Other assistant directors under Clark handle land-use planning, development entitlements, building permits, building plan checks and construction inspections.
Rudd and Swearengin added that Esqueda and Clark had been actively pushing for months to have White and Furtado join their respective departments. “They were recruiting the best available people right out from under me,” Swearengin said, adding that she resisted “because I needed them, too.”
“I hung onto them as long as I could, and I would keep them through December if I could, but I recognize that’s not best for the organization,” Swearengin said. “The city is lucky they’re willing to stick around because frankly it’s more punishment than reward, and I’m not kidding.”
As Swearengin’s chief of staff, White earned a base salary of $122,000 per year plus benefits in 2015, according to the public records database Transparent California. In her new job, she will be paid $125,000 a year, Rudd said. Furtado’s base salary as deputy chief of staff last year was about $101,000. As an assistant director, her salary is $120,000 a year.
Both posts are at-will jobs and could be at risk under a new mayoral administration and city manager once Swearengin’s term ends in the first week of January.