Amy Arambula has been appointed to a seat on the board of a large Fresno agency that controls $131 million of mostly public money.
The appointment to the 24-member board of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission was made by her son, Fresno Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula.
According to Fresno EOC’s by-laws, public officials such as Arambula can appoint eight members to the board. There are no prohibitions against naming a relative to serve.
But some current board members have voiced concerns privately about the appropriateness of Arambula appointing his mother. Good government groups also says they move raises red flags.
Arambula Already Serving on Board
Amy Arambula had already been serving on the board after being appointed by state Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) in 2019. She has served on and off over the years as the appointee of other state and county leaders. One of the elected leaders who appointed her in the past is her husband, former Assemblyman Juan Arambula.
Joaquin Arambula in the past has appointed Juan to the board as well.
In an Oct. 21 letter to Fresno EOC board chairwoman Linda Hayes, Hurtado replaced her then-appointee Amy Arambula with Ruben Zarate — chairman of the Fresno County Democratic Party.
In turn, on Oct. 22, Assemblyman Arambula announced that his current appointee, Fresno attorney and community activist Amparo Cid, had resigned. Arambula named his mother as Cid’s replacement in the letter.
“Mrs. Arambula is well respected for her dedication to improving the lives of Central Valley residents. An attorney, she has worked for several non-profit organizations that serve the most vulnerable in Fresno County. She is a strong advocate whose expertise will help Fresno EOC to carry out its mission,” the legislator wrote. He did not mention the family relationship in his letter.
EOC board by-laws require that at least one attorney serves on the board. Amy Arambula has been that lone attorney.
Hurtado did not explain in her letter why she replaced Amy Arambula as her appointee. She also declined to answer further inquiries about the move.
Arambulas Defend Appointment
Joaquin Arambula said he is proud to appoint his mother, saying she has proved herself on the board and is worthy of reappointment.
“She’s shown herself to be a leader and shown an ability to really stand up and speak about many of the issues that matter regarding poverty in our city and I believe she’s a wonderful representative on that board,” Arambula said.
As to why he didn’t spell out their relationship in his letter to the Fresno EOC board, Arambula said, “I believe it’s obvious who she is and her role.”
Amy Arambula said she’s a good board member, advocating for Fresno EOC’s mission of helping the “neediest in our county, particularly in our rural area.”
She questioned motivations about objections to her presence on the board.
“These are the things I believe in. EOC needs board members that are well informed, active participants in carrying out their responsibilities as board members,” Amy Arambula said in an email statement to GV Wire. “I suspect some board members may not want me to continue asking tough questions. I regret there are people on our board that may disagree with my strong advocacy on behalf of the poor.”
Her full statement can be read here.
Fresno EOC President: No Violation of By-Laws
“There is nothing in our bylaws that prohibits him from nominating his mother.” — Fresno EOC Board President Linda Hayes
Hayes, the board’s chairwoman, said Assemblyman Arambula’s appointment of his mother did not violate any board rules regarding nepotism, though she said some board members asked about it.
“There is nothing in our bylaws that prohibits him from nominating his mother,” Hayes said.
She left open the possibility that the by-laws committee could change the rules in the future to eliminate such an appointment. She declined to speculate on the ethics of the issue.
“Some commissioners said that we need to change the bylaws. But right at this point, our bylaws don’t state that (relatives can’t be appointed). We can’t talk about whether it’s ethical or not. I just have to go by what the bylaws say and then in the future that might be addressed,” Hayes said.
Good Government Group: A Questionable Move
Sean McMorris, a policy consultant with the non-partisan good government group California Common Cause, said the move raises questions.
“In general, it is frowned upon and viewed as unethical when an elected appoints a family member or a close friend or relative to a position,” McMorris said.
John Pelissero, senior scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said the appearance of nepotism is problematic.
“Nepotism is commonly perceived as an unethical use of public authority to reward a family member with a job, an appointed position, or a contract with the government. Elected officials are encouraged to avoid even the appearance of impropriety by placing family members in government positions,” Pelissero said.
McMorris agreed with board officials that the move is legal. He also says that Amy Arambula’s experience and prior service on the board mitigates some ethical concerns.
“She does have the credentials and she was previously appointed by a separate elected (member), so the appearance of nepotism is diminished by that fact,” McMorris said.
McMorris said that the fact that it is not a paid position, nor funded primarily with private donations, alleviates some of the appearance of wrongdoing.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s good practice. It’s certainly not best practice. It’s not something that the general public and good government organizations like Common Cause condone, that’s for sure. But I would say, given the circumstances here, that impropriety is diminished,” McMorris said.