By Bill McEwen
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand sure is a swell guy.
Last year, he paid Tim Orman, the political consultant who helped him edge Henry R. Perea in the mayoral race, a $30,000 “win bonus.”
Then Brand turned around and hired Orman as his mayoral chief of staff and gave him a taxpayer-funded salary of $125 grand a year.
As bonuses go, that’s not quite the same as winning the lottery, but it’s better than a kick in the pants.
Though Orman wasn’t qualified for the position, Brand’s decision made perfect sense in the friends-reward-friends world of politics.
There’s little for campaign consultants to do in off years. City Hall would be the perfect place for Orman to hang out until 2018, when he could leave City Hall, dust off his “Merchant of Venom” résumé and sign up candidates.
“Tim knows better than anybody else what my vision for Fresno is,” Brand said the day he introduced Orman as his chief of staff.
City Hall is Swearengin 3.0
Not that Brand’s vision is a secret.
It’s abundantly clear that Ashley Swearengin still runs City Hall. The staff largely is the same. The policies are the same. And the goals are the same. Come 2020, Brand might as well admit the obvious and make his reelection motto, “A vote for me is a vote for Ashley.”
I apologize for getting ahead the story.
There is still a bit of business that Orman needs to clear up.
When Orman’s hiring was announced, The Bee’s John Ellis wrote that the “initial plan is for Orman to work under Brand for a year to get his City Hall operation up and running.”
Granted, Ellis didn’t attribute that statement to Orman or Brand, but you can bet your last dollar on the veracity of what he wrote. After all, Ellis announced just 10 days later that he was leaving The Bee to become Brand’s governmental affairs director.
Brand, Orman, Spees and Ellis is not a Law Firm
It’s all kind of cozy, isn’t it?
Orman, who runs Brand’s campaign, is hired as chief of staff.
H. Spees, who finished third in the mayoral primary, endorses Brand in the November runoff.
The Brand campaign writes a $1,000 check to ease Spees’ campaign debt, and then Brand hires Spees for the $100,000 taxpayer-funded job of director of strategic initiatives.
And Ellis, who covered the race for The Bee, winds up with Team Brand, too.
Is Orman Going, Staying or Both?
The question is, now that Orman’s year is nearly up, will he announce after Christmas that he is leaving City Hall and returning to political consulting?
Or will he continue as chief of staff for the mayor of California’s fifth-largest city?
There is a third possibility: Orman keeps his day job and moonlights as a political operative. Brand might even prefer that arrangement, especially if Orman works for City Council candidates favored by the mayor.
Brand, Orman and Ellis refuse to talk to me. They run City Hall like it’s Putin’s Palace. They only talk to reporters they like or to reporters from big outlets.
Not to tell other reporters what to do, but they might want to ask Orman if he’s staying put, consulting or doing both.
And if he’s doing both, well, the public really needs to know that.