For Terra Brusseau, it was a “grin and bear it” moment.
In the first Fresno Housing Authority board meeting since she made controversial comments about a public housing project in Clovis, her colleagues let her know how they felt.
“I was deeply saddened and truly sorry for pain that was caused by my words. I believe everybody deserves opportunity for success and I understand my comments, taken out of their totality, sounded otherwise,” Brusseau said.
She added that after the previous meeting, she met with community leaders and Mayor Lee Brand — who appointed her to the housing board, a joint governing body of the city and county of Fresno.
“I have their full support to continue my role as commissioner, which I plan to do,” Brusseau said.
She then had a message for people she offended.
“I wish that rather than go directly to the media and members of the city council with frustrations, that those offended would have reached out to me directly,” Brusseau said.
Apology Too Late for CEO
FHA executive director and CEO Preston Prince didn’t mince words Tuesday.
“I appreciate your apology. I feel like it was too late. It’s too long. It should have been earlier.” — FHA CEO Preston Prince
He relayed a story that the day after Brusseau’s initial comments, he met with upset FHA staff members.
“They talked about how the words hurt them, angered them, how it got to the core of who they were. They doubted us as leaders around this table. They doubted the competence of this agency to be able to represent them and their community that they come from,” Prince said.
After the controversy became public, Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger released a statement saying that all are welcome in Clovis.
On Wednesday, he said further comment would not be fruitful or necessary.
Board, Staff Express Frustration
At March’s monthly board meeting, Brusseau’s comments were interpreted by some to mean the planned Clovis project at Willow and Alluvial wasn’t suited for minorities.
“But as I even just looked today at Garfield Elementary School, which is what the school that this feeds into … It is a majority white school, that, I think there are more, better areas for diversity and our residents to feel like they’re in the right place.”
Brusseau sat patiently, her countenance alternating between a smile and no expression, as board colleagues took turns sharing how they felt about her remarks.
Adrian Jones, chairwoman for the city’s FHA board contingent, reflected on the March discussion.
“I apologize for not challenging those words, in that second,” Jones said.
Board member Sharon Williams noted she did not initially respond but was frustrated by Brusseau’s statements.
“I was sitting right here. I did not get offended, because it went right over my head. What offended me, that in 2019 we still got to have this discussion? That’s what’s hurting me. How dare we still have to have this discussion!” Williams said.
Seven other board members chimed in, some saying they were shocked by Brusseau’s comments. Others advocated for the right of residents to live where they choose.
Payne Wants to Move On
Eric Payne, a State Center Community College District trustee and executive director of the Central Valley Urban Institute, is ready to move on.
“While many are still demanding Commissioner Brusseau’s resignation, I’m not one of them. My focus has and continues to be the residents — those who are experiencing delayed work orders for broken stoves in their unit and can’t cook; residents who want greater investments in self-sufficiency programs; those who are facing housing discrimination as (housing voucher) holders; and preserving and expanding the public housing development stock in our county, which I hope she will become a champion of. I’m optimistic,” he said.
Payne spoke briefly at the meeting, saying that his group still supports the Clovis project.