Andrew Janz’s campaign for Fresno mayor threatened legal action if the Fresno County Board of Supervisors passes a change to a rule for leave time affecting employees running for office.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Janz campaign manager Mari Harren alleges the potential rule change targets Janz, a prosecutor who works for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.
The letter calls the potential rule change “undemocratic and unfair on its face” and says the proposal violates the law.
“The proposed change unlawfully targets certain county employees, while carving out exceptions for others,” the letter says.
Proposed rule change
The proposal, drafted by Supervisors Buddy Mendes and Nathan Magsig, would amend the county’s personnel rule for employee leave while a county employee is running for office.
The rule was placed on the Aug. 6 Board of Supervisors agenda, but it was pulled at the beginning of the meeting after the Service Employees International Union requested more time to weigh in.
The current proposed amendments would require county employees running for office to take a leave before the election in order to ensure they aren’t campaigning on county time. County employees would have the option to use accrued annual leave with pay or be forced to take an unpaid leave.
If approved, the rule would exclude elected officials.
The proposal currently isn’t scheduled for a vote, but both Mendes and Magsig expressed intent to move forward at some point. They said county staff is still working on the proposal.
“We’re trying to find a balance for those individuals who want to run for office, as well as making sure the taxpayers of Fresno County are getting full days of work out of the employees being paid by them,” Magsig said.
In the letter, Harren alleges Janz is being targeted.
Both Mendes and Magsig denied that.
“It’s all false. All their accusations are false,” Mendes said. “I’m very disappointed. It’s a very childish letter.”
In response to Mendes’ comments, Janz said:
“The law is the law and the facts are the facts. I look forward to the board’s response.”
In the 2018 election, Janz denied allegations that he was campaigning on county time when he ran a high-profile campaign against Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, that gained national attention. Now, he’s running for mayor of Fresno against Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
Mendes said Janz wasn’t the only county employee where such issues arose, but he declined to name others.
“We had multiple problems in the last election cycle,” he said. “We’re trying to make it even for everybody.”
Janz countered, saying District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp “confirmed there were no problems with campaigning on county time last cycle. I find it troubling that they would challenge her representations.”
Magsig pointed out that the draft policy doesn’t name any employee. He said he and Mendes tried to develop a policy that provides flexibility and streamlines the policy so department heads are treating equally all employees who seek office.
He also called Harren’s letter premature since the policy isn’t yet up for a vote.
Dillon Savory, the executive director of the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council, earlier this month sent a letter to the board of supervisors asking the board to postpone the vote on the rule change.
In that letter, Savory said the Central Labor Council and its 53 affiliated unions opposed the proposed amendments, saying the policy “seeks to limit the ability of employees to actively participate in the electoral process if they do not have time accrued on the books.”
Savory said most employees don’t have an abundance of leave time accrued, and the policy would force them to go without pay if they choose to run for office.
“Not only do we view the intent of this proposal to be politically motivated, but we also question the constitutionality of the changes,” Savory said in the letter. “…Such a rule would not only violate these workers’ constitutional rights, it will appear as a shameful attempt to silence county workers who are often vocal critics of county budget priorities.”
A number of other labor groups signed on to the letter in opposition of the rule change, including SEIU 521, a county bargaining unit.