Fresno’s police chief is running for mayor. Jerry Dyer should go on leave immediately

Fresno’s top cop Jerry Dyer announces bid for mayor

Jerry Dyer, Fresno's Chief of Police, made his mayoral bid official in an announcement to the press at Manchester Center Wednesday morning.
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Jerry Dyer, Fresno's Chief of Police, made his mayoral bid official in an announcement to the press at Manchester Center Wednesday morning.

For the past 40 years Jerry Dyer has been a Fresno Police Department employee. For the last 18, he has been chief of police. His dedication goes without saying, and his oft-stated love for the city and its residents is genuine.

So it was no surprise, really, when he announced on May 29 that he would seek to become Fresno’s next mayor. Current Mayor Lee Brand plans to step down at the end of his first term, leaving the field wide open for contenders vying in next March’s primary.

Dyer’s official final day with the police department is Oct. 16. He plans to take a leave well before then, however, likely sometime in August, so he can begin campaigning in earnest.

That’s a good idea, but does not go far enough. He should start the leave now to avoid any appearances of conflict of interest while he wears his chief’s hat and is a candidate, too.

Dyer, however, said he does not want to start taking leave now. In a meeting with The Bee’s Editorial Board, Dyer said June is the critical month for finalizing the coming year’s budget, and he wanted to remain in charge of that for the police department, given his long experience in preparing the spending plan. That is an honorable motivation. But it suggests there is not enough staff knowledge underneath Dyer in the organization, which is worrisome.

He also outlined steps he is taking to avoid any conflicts of interest, real or appearances of them. He has given up his city-provided car, and is driving his personal vehicle. He does not wear his uniform to campaign events, and does not do election business on work time. He has a personal cell phone for campaign-related calls.

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Audrey Redmond, left, hugs Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer before start of press conference in front or Manchester Center. Redmond worked with Americorp where she worked with Dyer, who formally announced his mayoral candidacy Wednesday. Eric Paul Zamora ezamora@fresnobee.com

That is all good, as it should be. But Dyer admitted to the editorial board that he cannot control how others might perceive him as he goes about his day — police chief in this venue, mayoral candidate in the next.

And that goes to the heart of the problem: He cannot control appearances of conflict while he remains the active chief. No one begrudges Dyer from wanting to run for mayor. But if he is going to do that, he needs to go all in and step away from his chief job. It is all about keeping the lines clear of confusion.

Here’s a hypothetical: Dyer is out to lunch while on a work day and is wearing his uniform. Dyer is known by lots of Fresnans, so people come up to say hi while he eats in the restaurant. One of those who stops by is a local developer. Now, is Dyer talking to him about crime trends? Or is the developer asking how to make a contribution to Dyer’s campaign?

Dyer cannot control how other people interact with him, but he certainly can determine how people will know him at the moment. As it stands, is the public to see him as police chief, or as mayoral candidate? It may be clear to Dyer, but it is not to the public, and that is the problem.

Supporters of Dyer will criticize this editorial by saying it is quibbling over the difference of two months — June and July. Once August rolls around, Dyer will likely take his leave (using 600 hours of accrued vacation time, he said) so he can become a full-time candidate.

But until then, the question of conflicts of interest will be asked.

An election for mayor is always an important event, and Fresno needs a robust field of candidates. Joining Dyer as candidates are City Councilman Luis Chavez, county prosecutor Andrew Janz; Elliott Balch, chief operations officer of the Central Valley Community Foundation; and Richard Renteria, a local insurance broker who ran for mayor in 2016.

When it comes to conflicts of interest, council members in some ways have an easier road than others. The public understands council members are always running for re-election or further office; it goes with the territory.

When Janz, a Democrat, ran for Congress last year against Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican from Tulare, some local conservatives charged Janz with using work time to campaign, even though he clocked off and clocked back on the same way Dyer is now. Janz’s boss, District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, also said Janz had scrupulous attention to his work time. Will those conservatives have similar concerns now about Dyer? Politics being what it is, probably not.

What matters to voters most is understanding what candidates think about issues and who supports them. For Dyer, leaving the police chief job, one he has loved for nearly 20 years, would be the right thing to do. Then he could begin expressing his affection for Fresno solely as a candidate, outlining his views and listing those who back him.