In the latest chapter of the bubbling fight over separation of power in Fresno City Hall, Mayor Lee Brand vetoed a resolution that attempted to restrict how staff pay raises are regulated.
The city council voted 6-0 on July 25 to bar retroactive raises after an employee has given notice to leave city employment. The resolution only would affect non-union represented management — about 60 employees in all. It amended the city’s Transparency Act to end what some council members called “bonuses” for exiting employees.
As passed, raises could be given only after the proper paperwork was filed with the city. Also, employees who file notice that they are leaving could not receive retroactive raises.
“Neither myself, my staff nor the city manager knew about this amendment until it appeared on the council agenda, less than a week before it was scheduled for a vote. That is not enough time for the types of discussions necessary for this type of change.” — Mayor Lee Brand
In his veto message, Brand said it’s about adhering to the division of power between his office and the council.
“I do not believe this new amendment complies with the spirit of the City Charter and I do not believe this amendment has been thoroughly discussed with the city manager and other members of my administration to fully understand and address its long-term implications,” Brand wrote.
Brand also complained about a lack of adequate notice before the council’s vote on the resolution.
“Neither myself, my staff nor the city manager knew about this amendment until it appeared on the council agenda, less than a week before it was scheduled for a vote. That is not enough time for the types of discussions necessary for this type of change,” Brand said.
Since the start of the year and the swearing in of two progressive-leaning councilmen, Miguel Arias and Nelson Esparza, clashes have brewed between the council and the mayor’s office.
In April, the council voted to rearrange how office space is divided between the city manager and council staff. Brand vetoed that, but came to a deal with the council to avoid an override.
During the June budget process, the council voted to transfer the code enforcement department from the city planning office to the city attorney. While most departments answer in the city hierarchy to the mayor, the city attorney and city clerk are under the direct jurisdiction of the council.
It was that transfer that alerted the council about retroactive raises. They noted that a manager in the code enforcement department who recently left the city earned a retroactive raise totaling about $6,500.
Council Responds with Override Likely
“It’s disappointing and a little hypocritical that he is opposing closing a loophole and adding more transparency to the process.” — councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
Members of the city council GV Wire spoke with disapproved of Brand’s veto.
“It’s disappointing and a little hypocritical that he is opposing closing a loophole and adding more transparency to the process,” councilwoman Esmeralda Soria said. She referred to the fact that Brand, during his time as a city councilman, authored the Transparency Act.
Arias, co-author of the amendments, wondered why Brand would take such action.
“People should not be receiving raises and bonuses after they indicated they are departing the city. This is a common sense, fiscally sound policy. I see no value in the veto other than (Brand) wants to continue to give people raises on the way out,” Arias said.
Fellow co-author Garry Bredefeld expects council to officially respond.
“I anticipate the veto will be overridden,” Bredefeld said. “This is taxpayer money. It should be spent in a very open and transparent way.”
The council has 30 days to formally override the veto, requiring five votes.
City Manager Defended Actions
During the council debate, city manager Wilma Quan defended the practice, saying management sometimes needs time to evaluate whether a raise is merited.
“We have provided an evaluation and an employee action form for increases as applicable if somebody has given excellent performance during their evaluation period. It is an increase for work performance, not a bonus,” Quan said. “Whether or not it happened 30 days after their anniversary date, 60 days after their anniversary date, management is busy sometimes and it’s nice to have some of that ability, that little bit of cushion”
Quan also took a shot at the council’s attempt to usurp her authority. “This is another attempt to micro-manage,” she said.
Arias said the resolution is “an attempt to hold staff accountable for what we believe are abuses of retro pay.”
Quan also engaged in debate with Bredefeld, airing her wish that the council came to her first and not in a public setting.
“It’s just a little off-putting,” Quan said.
In response, Bredefeld said: “It’s a little off-putting for me to find out people who get retroactive bonuses when they put in notices four months early.”