The city of Fresno quietly canceled contracts to educate the public on two upcoming ballot measures.
At its Sept. 29 meeting, the Fresno City Council approved $600,000 to provide public information about Measure C, the countywide transportation tax renewal, and Measure M, a new sales tax addition to benefit city veterans programs and facilities.
But, two marketing contractors received notice last week that their services are no longer needed.
“It was always our intent to only proceed with a public information campaign that followed the counsel of the City Attorney’s Office. Ultimately, I’m sure that there were substantive reasons that the City of Fresno chose not to move forward with the contract, and we support that decision,” Bruce Batti, president of the Jeffrey Scott Agency told GV Wire in an email.
JSA received a $150,000 contract for Measure C outreach, on a 4-1 vote.
Similarly, Local Government Strategic Consulting received $450,000 to educate the public about Measure M on a 6-0 vote.
The city sent letters to the consulting firms on Oct. 21 letting them know that the contract would be canceled in seven days and to “cease all work related to the Agreement.”
“While we are disappointed that we could not help educate City of Fresno voters on the merits of Measure M, we are confident in the measure’s strength and are very excited for Fresnans to weigh-in,” Alex Tavlian of LGSC texted GV Wire. “We’d like to thank the members of the City Council, City Manager Georgeanne White, and her team for their willingness to pursue every available avenue to help provide robust information about Measure M.”
The contract called for LGSC to produce materials such as TV, radio and print advertisements, direct mail, and social media.
Both groups said they did not perform any work on its respective contracts.
Opposition to Spending
The campaign spending generated opposition from the public, including a letter from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, questioning its legality. A government may not spend public money to support or oppose a ballot measure but is permitted to spend money to inform the public. The City Council agreed to vet all information through the City Attorney’s Office.
“By canceling the contract with the political consulting firm, the City implicitly admits that spending taxpayer dollars for political advocacy could expose the city to litigation, an FPPC investigation, and attorneys fees costs. We are pleased they have decided not to waste public funds for this inappropriate purpose,” HJTA president Jon Coupal said in an email to GV Wire.
In a special meeting agenda item added on Oct. 20, the council was scheduled to discuss the taxpayer association’s concerns in closed session.
GV Wire has learned that the City Council voted in closed session to cancel the contracts. Such votes are normally reported publicly to comply with state open meeting laws. The city clerk confirmed on Thursday that the decision was not disclosed in open session following the vote.
Councilman Tyler Maxwell declined to comment when asked by GV Wire. Councilman Nelson Esparza deferred an answer to the city manager.
“Yes, the contracts were canceled. As with most city contracts, the consultant contracts allowed for termination with seven days notice by the Contract Administrator, which is the City Manager. With many pressing city issues, we decided to go a different direction,” city manager Georgeanne White said.
A vote in June to spend taxpayer money on the criminal legal defense of Esparza has yet to be publicly acknowledged.