The Fresno City Council is scheduled to settle a lawsuit stemming from an audit of the nonprofit that operates Granite Park.
A vote in closed session and open session is scheduled for the council’s Thursday meeting. Terance Frazier, president of the nonprofit Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, sued the city and several leaders for what he says was a flawed audit.
But, an 11th-hour letter from District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp may complicate matters.
“This office has received allegations of potential law violations by members of the City Council… Specifically, this allegation involves recent discussions among a majority of Councilmembers concerning forthcoming decisions on Granite Park,” Smittcamp wrote to all councilmembers, Mayor Jerry Dyer, the city attorney and the city manager.
A majority, or 4 members of the council, are not allowed to talk about any item that could be on a city agenda unless it is in a proper city meeting. The law is known as the Brown Act.
Smittcamp urged the council to postpone any Granite Park vote. She said this was not the first complaint of a Brown Act violation regarding Granite Park.
“We became aware today that the item was on the agenda for tomorrow. So we just advised the city attorney and all the councilmembers that it would be our request that they hold off on voting on anything until we have proper time to do that investigation,” Smittcamp said.
Smittcamp would not go in the nature of the allegations such as which councilmembers were involved, when the violations are alleged to occur and who made the complaint.
Councilman Garry Bredefeld, long a critic of the Granite Park deal, applauded Smittcamp.
“I strongly support the District Attorney investigating connections and communications associated with Granite Park. As I stated at my press conference two years ago, there is a stench with Granite Park and City Hall and that stench continues,” Bredefeld said.
Councilman Mike Karbassi, who joined the city council after the audit was performed, respects the state’s open meeting law.
“Brown Act violations are serious and regardless of the issue, I’m a stickler for the law which includes the Brown Act,” Karbassi said.
Audit Led to Lawsuit
In 2015, the city leased Granite Park — a failing city recreation facility at Cedar and Dakota avenues — to CVCSF for 25 years with a $150,000 a year operating subsidy.
When Frazier asked the city to double the subsidy in 2018, the city responded with an audit. It accused the nonprofit of poor accounting practices but not any legal wrongdoing.
The audit was heavily critical of the bookkeeping practices and focused on its leaders, businessman president Terance Frazier and former congressman TJ Cox.
Some examples were loans made by a corporate entity controlled by Cox, but repaid to Cox directly. CVCSF said there was no wrongdoing.
CVCSF and Frazier sued in federal court, saying the audit was poorly conducted, and damaged future business opportunities for him in the city. When he filed a claim against the city in 2019 (the first step to filing a lawsuit), he said the audit was a “political hit job.”
The suit alleged defamation, illegal retaliation, and breach of contract.
Frazier had no comment on Smittcamp’s letter.
With the proposed settlement, the city will pay CVCSF $2.3 million — to cover the debts and investment in the park — engage in a new 20-year lease for $1 a year, and allow CVCSF to earn money through digital billboards. In return, Frazier will drop his lawsuit and both sides will be responsible for their own costs.
As part of the billboard portion of the settlement, the city will pay CVCSF $2 million up front. When the city recovers that $2 million from future billboard ad revenue, CVCSF will resume receiving that income.
One billboard, facing Highway 168, was erected a few months ago. The deal with Outfront media is $80,000 or 30% of revenue per year, whichever is greater.
The city will be responsible for maintenance of Granite Park. While the public is free to the soccer fields and a park on the premises, baseball/softball fields can be rented through CVCSF.
Smittcamp said the public integrity unit of her office will investigate the matter. She offered no timetable.
“There’s going to be several interviews that are going to have to be done and people are going to have to be contacted. Whether (the city council) votes on it or not, the investigation is going to go forward. So if the city chooses to proceed, then we will continue our investigation. And if they don’t proceed on a vote with regard to this issue, then, we will conduct our investigation as expeditiously as possible,” Smittcamp said.