Celebrating Fresno Women of the Year as a group, members of the City Council acknowledged recent tensions with humor.
In the past, council members and the mayor celebrated awardees at separate events. On Tuesday morning, the city celebrated together at City Hall.
A week after trading accusations and insults, the banter was good-natured as the officials honored women who have contributed to Fresno.
“When women are in charge, you get things done,” Mayor Jerry Dyer said.
Encouraging Women in Law Enforcement
“I went on a ride along and it just completely changed my perspective.” — Fresno PD Captain Mindy Casto
Fresno Police Captain Mindy Casto was the honoree for District 6, nominated by Bredefeld. She is the highest-ranking female in the department.
Casto started at the age of 16 in the explorer program, and ha now served for more than 25 years. Law enforcement wasn’t her goal growing up. A high school FFA president, Casto thought she would work on the family farm.
“I went on a ride-along and it just completely changed my perspective. And from that moment, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. When someone calls 9-1-1, I want to be the one to come and help them solve the problem,” Casto said.
Last week, Chief Paco Balderrama made a commitment to hire more women in the department and in leadership roles.
Her advice to young women who are considering working in law enforcement?
“It’s not all like it looks on television. Those are usually the most exciting parts. The truth is, officers use force less than one half of one percent of all their contacts out in the field,” Casto said. “It’s not all fighting and running and jumping and those kinds of things. It’s a lot more brainpower and there’s a lot of hours of being bored, punctuated by moments of excitement and sometimes fear.”
Tark’s Former Secretary Loves Hockey
Iris Levesque noticed kids getting into hockey because of Wayne Gretzky in the mid-1990s. But, they had no place to play. When she saw kids about to get kicked out for playing the sport on a tennis court in Cary Park, she took action.
“These kids are not juvenile delinquents. They were just kids who simply needed a place to play their sport,” Levesque said. “I’m just advocating the voice for children. My idea is if we increase more places for our kids to play, we’re all going to be better off.”
Levesque founded a nonprofit, Let the Kids Skate, to help bring in-line hockey to Fresno. She secured funds, equipment and a places to play, working with the city and the NHL. At least two parks in Fresno have in-line rinks thanks to Levesque’s efforts.
“Without Iris, I can tell you, a lot of those kids would not have that opportunity,” Councilman Tyler Maxwell said about his nominee.
Levesque is a longtime Fresno State employee, once serving as legendary basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian’s secretary.
Dyer Surprises His City Manager
While the celebration took place on the second floor of City Hall, other city staffers were busy in their offices working on the budget — including Mayor Jerry Dyer’s city manager, Georgeanne White.
To her chagrin, Dyer demanded that White attend the ceremony. Everyone knew she would be honored as Dyer’s Woman of the Year except her.
Even her family hid on the third floor when White emerged from her office.
“It’s an honor, and it really has been my life for the last 20, 21 years. So while I never seek acknowledgment or awards, it certainly is appreciated and it is good to be able to feel valued,” White told the crowd.
Councilmembers Joke About Recent Tension
The tension was so thin, you could cut it with a joke.
After a week of accusations of misspending, ethics violations and general insults, all seven members of the Fresno City Council and the mayor took a break to celebrate.
Miguel Arias, one of the councilmembers in the crosshairs of colleague Garry Bredefeld, quipped that the catered meal from Eat It Up was paid for by the council president (true), and each attendant would be charged per sandwich.
Dyer noted that flowers for his nominee, Georgeanne White, were purchased with his own funds.
City to Form Women’s Commission
Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza announced the formation of a city Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. A $25,000 state grant will help get the group off the ground.
What is the commission’s mission?
“(To look at) external facing issues such as poverty, homelessness, education, really the sort of these broad range issues. But also, I don’t think that precludes them from looking more inward right and evaluating sort of our own city organization,” Esparza said.
Esparza said details of what the commission will look like, how many members and who will make appointments will be revealed later. He plans to propose the commission at a council meeting next month.
Women of the Year Honorees
Women of the Year honorees:
— District 1 (Esmeralda Soria): Agnes Rhodes, educator
— District 2 (Mike Karbassi): Jessica Vaughn, founder of San Joaquin River Socials
— District 3 (Miguel Arias): COVID-19 Equity Project (more than 50 women)
— District 4 (Tyler Maxwell): Iris Levesque, founder of Let the Kids Skate
— District 5 (Luis Chavez): Valerie Davis, Fresno Unified trustee
— District 6 (Garry Bredefeld): Mindy Casto, Fresno Police Captain
— District 7 (Nelson Esparza): Arlene Medina, Community Services Officer
— Mayor (Jerry Dyer): Georgeanne White, city manager