Before arriving at a 7-0 vote to conduct a spending audit, the Fresno City Council engaged in a 70-minute insult fest Thursday.
The bruising debate came one week after city councilman Garry Bredefeld called out four of his colleagues for alleged misuse of taxpayer funds. He provided financial documents to the media and pointed to several spending items.
“Let the sun shine,” Miguel Arias said about the audit. He said the city council and mayor’s office have always been transparent — any spending document is a matter of public record.
The audit will look back 10 years at discretionary spending by councilmembers and the mayor’s office. Council president Nelson Esparza also wants to see how spending changed when credit cards were issued to council offices about five years ago.
Bredefeld spent the debate calling out the four councilmembers. They, in turn, attacked Bredefeld on a variety of grounds — including wasting taxpayer money on political theater, “harboring” a felon, misogyny, and general hypocrisy.
Also in Politics 101:
— Who will pay for the audit?
— Maxwell claims harassment; Bredefeld tells him to toughen up.
— First Fresno pot shop could open in May.
— Costa vows no more Koch money.
Bredefeld to Fund Audit
Esparza laid out the parameters for the audit, deeming that it will be funded by Bredefeld’s district budget, up to $500,000.
Bredefeld said that was punishment, but accepted that it was the will of the “gang of four” — Bredefeld’s derogatory nickname for Esparza, Tyler Maxwell, Arias and Esmeralda Soria.
“I’ll deal with whatever you want to throw my way,” Bredefeld said.
During a city council audit committee meeting on Wednesday, the city controller estimated such an audit may cost around $160,000 — more depending on how deep the audit digs. Councilmen Mike Karbassi and Luis Chavez volunteered to chip in to pay for the audit from their budgets. Funding may also come from Mayor Jerry Dyer’s office.
A Long Debate of Insults
Esparza, Maxwell, Arias, and Soria insulted Bredefeld during Thursday’s debate. They said Bredefeld was wasting taxpayer time with unmerited politically-motivated attacks.
Soria, in a long speech, attacked Bredefeld for spending on things like flowers and videos — items he accused others of spending on. She also attacked him for not targeting his allies Karbassi and Chavez.
While she justified spending money on turkeys and photos with Santa for her constituents, she did not address a specific Bredefeld criticism — a nearly $1,000 charge at a fancy Fresno restaurant for a staff appreciation meal.
Karbassi rebutted Soria’s remarks, saying his Uber Eats expenditures were from early in the pandemic, when he had to quarantine. He also called for an end to continued criticism of Bredefeld for the criminal actions of his former council aide, Daniel Gai, because the victim works at City Hall. Gai was convicted of domestic abuse, but remained on staff during the trial before Bredefeld fired him.
Arias justified spending money on meals, saying it is fair game when they are working. He said Bredefeld has enjoyed such meals bought by others.
Maxwell Says Bredefeld’s Remarks Promote Hate
Earlier during the meeting, Maxwell said the tone created by Bredefeld has gone too far. Maxwell played a profanity-laced voicemail as an example have how civility has sunk. He also said he’s been harassed in public because of Bredefeld’s comments.
“You are fighting with my 60-year old mother on Facebook who happens to be one of your constituents? Are you freakin’ kidding me, Garry?” Maxwell said, his voice filled with emotion.
Bredefeld was unsympathetic. He called Maxwell’s “performance” Oscar-worthy and said he’s received himself plenty of insults and hate calls and email.
“I don’t come up here and whine about it or cry about it, because that’s the fact when you stand up and you speak strongly and you hold people accountable. So that’s not going to change,” Bredefeld said.
Other Council Notes
— How much does the city make from an ATM at the airport? Up to $600 a month. The city council voted 7-0 to renew its deal with EECU for five years, starting at $400 a month and eventually growing to $600 a month. The city estimates it will net $64,800 for the non-exclusive contract.
— Soria surprised her outgoing chief of staff, Terry Cox , with a special proclamation. Cox, a former Central Unified school trustee, has been a council staffer for nearly 20 years. She is moving across the hall to work in Mayor Jerry Dyer’s administration as a manager in the planning department.
Court Denies Request to Halt Cannabis Licenses; First Retailer Eyes May Opening
Judge Mark Cullers denied a request from a rejected Fresno marijuana applicant to temporarily halt final licenses from being issued.
Perfect Union did not receive one of three licenses for District 6 in northeast Fresno. They sued in Fresno County Superior Court, asking for a stay until the court can hold a full hearing in August. In court filings, Perfect Union said the process has been unfair.
The city issued a new regulation Wednesday, telling the 20 preliminary licensees they have four months from now to complete their conditional use permit process. If not, they will lose their license to operate.
Of the 20 licensees, only one has completed the CUP process — The Artist Tree at 7835 N. Palm Avenue, suite 102. The retailer expects to open by May.
Six applicants have not even started, a city official tells Politics 101. A 21st license — up to three licenses in the seven districts are allowed — in District 7 in east-central Fresno, has yet to be issued. Previously, City Manager Georgeanne White said the licensing process is on pause to work on changes.
(Update, 3/24/22: an earlier version of this item said licensees had six months to complete a CUP. It is four months.)
Costa: No Koch Brothers Money
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, is the latest Congress member to reject money from the Koch brothers because of ties to Russia, CNBC reports.
The cable channel reported Costa received $2,500 from Koch Industries.
“The Koch brothers need to do what is right and follow the lead of other U.S. companies and withdraw from Russia,” Costa told CNBC. “Putin’s criminal and unprovoked actions against the Ukraine are a direct assault on democracy and should not be tolerated. I will not take any further contributions from the Koch PAC until they take a stand against Russia.”