Last October, the Fresno city council awarded a controversial six-figure contract to local public relations firms to engage the public in building new parks.  Now, a newly elected councilman wants to cancel that contract, saving the city $150,000.

By a 4-3 vote on October 13, council agreed to spend $1720,000 with publicist Bertz-Rosa Strategy-Creative and her team to help create excitement among the public over how and where to build new city parks. Among those in support was Lee Brand, who is now mayor. His successor in District 6, Dr. Garry Bredefeld, is proposing an ordinance Thursday (January 26) to nix the rest of the contract and spend the savings on deferred park maintenance.

Bredefeld’s idea is joined by Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, who initially voted against the spending in the first place. Her objection crossed traditional ideological lines, as she was joined in no votes with traditional fiscal conservatives Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier.

“It’s cost savings,” Bredefeld tells GV Wire. “Spending money on consultants is something we don’t need. It’s a duplication of what we are already doing. It’s a waste of taxpayer money.”

As reported by GV Wire in October:

Soria, part of the liberal side of the council, echoed Brandau and Olivier’s sentiments. She felt the contract for the Bertz-Rosa group was a duplication of services and not a wise use of taxpayer money. She also broke down the Bertz-Rosa proposal, pointing out social media posting spending amounts to $171 an hour. That is more than what any city attorney contractor makes per hour, she said.

The contract elicited spirited debate back in October. Brandau objected over one of Bertz-Rosa’s partners- Fresno Building Health Communities (BHC). The advocacy group was known for a provocative billboard campaign in the past calling for more parks in the southern part of Fresno. Brandau also got into it with then-Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who spoke at the meeting defending the parks PR contract.

“The question is why would they do this? Community engagement is an essential component to completing the Parks Master Plan, and it’s been the goal of Fresno Building Healthy Communities to ensure that community input is heard, acknowledged and incorporated,” Sandra Celedon, BHC hub manager, wrote in a news release to GV Wire.

“Unfortunately, this continues a pathetic tradition by city leaders who refuse to let the people actively participate in shaping the future of our city. How can resident voice be heard if council members continue to treat community engagement as an after-thought instead of an essential component of every public process. No matter the end result, Fresno Building Healthy Communities will continue to advocate for more and better parks in areas that need it most and call for robust community engagement in all planning efforts. We hope the majority of council will do the right thing by community members,” Celedon continued.

Another of Bertz-Rosa’s partners, Cary Catalano of his eponymous firm Catalano Fenske & Associates, has had close ties with Swearengin and Brand. Catalano also serves as a planning commissioner (appointed by Swearengin) and has recused himself of park related votes since his group won the contract. He lent his endorsement to Brand during his mayoral race.

The proposal is scheduled for Thursday’s meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m. It is item 4-B.

E-mail David Taub

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