Political Notebook

Fresno mayor uses his 1st veto — to block council vote on office space reassignment

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand for the first time used his veto power on a city council vote to reassign office space.

The vote on office space came during a meeting in April when the council voted 5-1 to assign office space currently used by the city manager’s office for council purposes. During the meeting, City Manager Wilma Quan objected to the vote. Councilmember Garry Bredefeld was the “no” vote.

In an interview Monday with The Bee, Brand called the vote a “power play” and said the dispute never should’ve gone so far as a resolution.

“I’m vetoing this resolution in the hope that the council and I can work together to resolve this issue without the need for a public kerfuffle,” he said in a news release.

The council’s 5-1 vote is veto-proof, but Brand hopes after his veto one or two council members will reverse their votes.

Councilmember Nelson Esparza said he won’t change his vote.

“The mayor should be embarrassed that he used his first veto on this resolution,” he said. “It’s very symbolic of the mediocrity his administration has delivered to Fresno residents.

He also said the mayor is wasting more time with the veto

“We’re the entire legislative branch of Fresno’s government, and we need the resources to properly carry out our function for our constituents,” he said.

But Bredefeld agreed with Brand in calling the resolution a power play: “This is nothing more than a divisive power grab by some councilmembers,” he said. “Rather than dealing with real issues like panhandling and crime, they’re playing political games.”

City manager office space

The resolution, sponsored by Councilmember Luis Chavez and cosponsored by Esmeralda Soria and Miguel Arias, reassigns room 2085 and the space right outside the room to the councilmembers. Those spaces are currently occupied by Assistant City Manager Jane Sumpter and Deputy City Manager Laura Merrill.

“I sincerely wish it had not come to this, but the council has literally backed me and my administration into a corner. I know of two meetings between the councilmembers and my staff where the negotiation consisted of telling my staff that this was a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” Brand said in a news release.

“That isn’t what I would call a negotiation,” he said. “We offered them a number of alternatives and showed them other spaces where they could locate their interns and store whatever they need to store, but they said no, they have to have these spaces where two key members of the city manager’s team currently work.”

During the April meeting, Chavez said he should’ve called the resolution the “extra, very-friendly, respectful, we-need-more-office-space act.” He called the city council offices an “ant farm,” particularly when summer interns begin work.

Quan responded, noting she would try to be as “extra friendly and professional” as possible, albeit “candid.”

Sumpter and Merrill each routinely work more than 40 hours a week, making it imperative for them to be in close proximity to her office. She called the council’s office quarters a “ghost town,” with only six to eight people working on a regular basis.

Bredefeld, Chavez, Arias and Soria all shot back: “What about my office?” “What about District 1?” or “What about your economic development director?”

Quan added the council members wanted extra space to store supplies for community meetings, such as brooms and water bottles.

Brand said the discussion about office space began before former Councilmember Steve Brandau took his post as a county supervisor. Brand said he understands the councilmembers are in tight quarters, but so are other city staffers.

Council reaction

After Brand announced the veto, Chavez said he’ll consult with other councilmembers to explore options.

“At the end of the day, we are trying to accommodate the growing need for constituent services, and the second floor is the only part of the building the council has access to,” he said. “This was the most cost effective approach proposed, short of allocating additional resources for satellite office space in our respective districts. I look forward to a productive conversation, and more importantly, solutions.”

Arias won’t change his vote, either. He said it’s unfortunate the mayor chose to use his veto power on a “minuscule item,” instead of the saturation of liquor stores in south Fresno, the homeless problem or fast-tracking business deals such as the Amazon and Ulta warehouses.

“We’re not going to let this distract us from the remaining structural problems that have led us to have an increased unemployment rate and the increased pollution levels we currently experience,” he said.

Soria said how city leaders spend their time reflects their priorities.

“This sends a clear message to voters that the mayor is willing to engage in debate over office space rather than focus on making sure every child in our city has access to sidewalks and basic infrastructure or even parks in their neighborhoods,” she said. “I will continue to stay focused on housing, parks and economic development which will transform our city.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.