A San Joaquin Valley insurance meeting is an unlikely place for a heated showdown between an Assemblymember and a county supervisor, but that’s what happened Friday.
Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula says he is concerned about a “lack of urgency” by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on handling the pandemic. He wanted to speak directly to the supervisors and get their responses on video.
The issue came to a head after Arambula hand-delivered a letter Wednesday to supervisors requesting an emergency meeting about the county’s response to COVID-19. Arambula then showed up in the hallway of the Fresno County Plaza building to meet the supervisors who were there to discuss insurance for their employees.
Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig stood toe to toe with Arambula and didn’t mince words.
“Go back to Sacramento,” Magsig said. “Empower us at the local level. We know how to handle the issues of Fresno County better than the governor.”
Supervisors tell GV Wire℠ they would have gladly met with Arambula had he just called their offices ahead of time.
Arambula Explains Why He Was There
“As a doctor, I have a moral obligation to stand up when I see harm,” Arambula told GV Wire℠ by phone. “I was concerned, based on what I saw in public space from the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 7, and the commentary from the dais by the Board of Supervisors regarding this crisis — that there was a lack of urgency to address this head-on.”
“As a doctor, I have always believed that you have to be direct and to the point when people’s lives are on the line. I believed that I needed to look the Board of Supervisors in the face and tell them the seriousness of this crisis.”–Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula
Arambula says he and other members of the community are demanding answers to questions about how money is being spent to fight the pandemic.
Asked why he felt it best to go directly to the supervisors in person rather than set up a meeting beforehand, Arambula says it goes back to his experience.
“As a doctor, I have always believed that you have to be direct and to the point when people’s lives are on the line. I believed that I needed to look the Board of Supervisors in the face and tell them the seriousness of this crisis,” said Arambula.
Arambula is calling for an emergency meeting of the Board of Supervisors to address his concerns about why the county has not spent the COVID-19 funds it received in March. The county, however, said that it didn’t receive authorization for the funding until April 28.
The county has announced a public workshop on July 28 to discuss CARES Act spending but said it had nothing to do with Arambula’s request. The workshop is set for 9 a.m. in the Fresno County Plaza Building ballroom.
Magsig: If Arambula Had Questions, He Should Have Called
“To me, it was a setup. I felt that he was politicizing this whole COVID situation that we’re in and I didn’t appreciate that,” said Magsig. “So, I’ve never seen that happen before like that. And I’ve been involved in government and politics going on 22 years.”
“To me, it was a setup. I felt that he was politicizing this whole COVID situation that we’re in and I didn’t appreciate that.” — Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig
When Magsig saw that Arambula had two people with him taking video, he had a staff member take some as well. However, one of the videographers that Magsig thought was an Arambula staff member was Craig Kohlruss of the Fresno Bee.
Magsig said that he was upset about Arambula’s allegations that the county isn’t transparent in the way it handles COVID-19 funds.
“We had just approved a spending plan about two weeks prior, but he didn’t acknowledge that,” said Magsig. “He never picked up the phone and gave me a call. I’m always happy to talk to anyone, whether they be an elected official or not.”
County Leaders Met With Arambula on Friday
After the incident in the hallway, supervisors Buddy Mendes and Steve Brandau, and County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau met with Arambula for about 30 minutes in Mendes’ office.
“He could never come up with anything specifically that we’re not being transparent about,” said Mendes, the board chair. “We have to account for everything. Even in the CARES Act, there’s an accounting process. The county administrative officer gets the proposals and gives them to the Health Department to go through. They then decide if this one works, or we need this one to be fixed.”
Mendes also said he explained to Aramabula that the Health Department that can provide hard specifics on which programs are funded. Mendes said that the county has been careful not to spend the funds too quickly in case the state funding for local testing centers runs out. The county wants to have money to keep testing going for however long the pandemic lasts, he said.
Said Arambula: “I believe we’re all in this together. I went into that meeting, wanting to make sure they heard my concern. I would ask that we continue to ask questions of our public servants, about how our taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau Responds
Rousseau took issue with Arambula’s characterization of the county’s COVID-19 response.
“I didn’t appreciate the tone of his letter that he wrote us,” Rousseau said Friday during the county health department’s online media update.
Rousseau said that he also was recorded by two Arambula staffers — one of which actually was Kohlruss of The Bee.
“My meeting with the Assemblyman I would describe as intense. I’m not an in-your-face kind of guy. This was an in-your-face kind of moment,” says Rousseau. “He had one staffer film me with a phone … waiting for me to go off or make a mistake. I’d like to think I didn’t, but we’ll find out if he ever plays those videos.”
Rousseau says he can’t give an accounting for how all of the dollars will be spent for a simple reason: “The virus will drive how we spend these dollars.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 1:22 p.m., Friday, July 24, to reflect that one of the videographers attributed to Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula’s staff was actually The Fresno Bee’s Craig Kohlruss and that Arambula gave the incorrect date for when Fresno County received the COVID-19 funding.