Rampant distrust, backstabbing, and a commitment to doing the public’s business behind closed doors are the distinguishing marks of today’s Fresno City Council.
Into this mess steps Andrew Janz, a prodigious Democratic Party fundraiser who has eyes on entering the House of Representatives someday with many of the Dems there owing him favors for past financial campaign support.
Janz is the new city attorney, hired with backing from just four of seven council members but accompanied by close political alliances with the body’s progressive wing. Depending on what happens today during Janz’s closed-session negotiations on a contract, he would win over the holdouts.
Curiously, back in late April, Janz told KSEE 24’s Alexan Balekian that he wouldn’t apply for the job following Doug Sloan’s exit to Santa Monica. Of course, that was two weeks before conservative councilmember Garry Bredefeld accused progressive council president Nelson Esparza of attempting to extort Sloan.
#New @defendvoting (Andrew Janz) tells me he will not apply to become @CityofFresno attorney. He says he is staying with the @FresnoDA.
Doug Sloan, current city attorney is leaving for a job in southern CA. @KSEE24
— Alexan Balekian (@RealALEXAN) April 29, 2022
Did Esparza Chase Sloan Out to Hire Janz?
Janz’s hiring raises a big question: Did Esparza chase Sloan out of City Hall so that he could set the stage for the Fresno County prosecutor to become the city attorney?
The Fresno County DA’s Office certainly will plow this ground ahead of Esparza’s misdemeanor extortion trial. DA’s investigators might well be working that angle as we speak.
Janz has been a highly successful violent crimes prosecutor. He is smart, confident, and persuasive. But now he has to navigate a political minefield in which Esparza — if he isn’t bounced from the council because of a criminal conviction — and councilmember Miguel Arias will demand his total loyalty.
Janz’s hiring smacks of cronyism and appears to be a power play by Esparza, Arias, and soon-to-be council president Tyler Maxwell to maintain control of City Hall despite Esmeralda Soria’s election to the state Assembly and the arrival soon of Annalisa Perea. Trust me, Perea can’t be pleased that the council majority rushed to hire Janz before she is sworn in.
As I read it, Perea’s presence could dismantle the progressive Bloc of Four and create a fluid dynamic in which Bredefeld, Mike Karbassi, and Luis Chavez have a bigger say in projects, budgets, and priorities than they do now.
This hire also is Esparza’s middle-finger salute to DA Lisa Smittcamp. After his most recent court appearance, Esparza called the DA’s case “flimsy and politically charged.”
The hatred that Esparza and Arias hold for Smittcamp is well-documented. If her office loses this case, they and other progressives will remind voters of the outcome every chance they get.
Janz Has to Earn the Public’s Trust
The good news for Janz is, he will have every opportunity to prove this career move is for the right reasons. He signaled that by saying he would separate from his fund-raising Voter Projection Project, which funds candidates and make independent campaign expenditures,
He should also advise the council to publicly report their closed-session votes. This isn’t happening now, with the council majority quite comfortable keeping the public in the dark on important matters such as lawsuit settlements, the decision to pay for Esparza’s legal bills, and even how much has been spent on his courtroom defense.
In the best-case scenario, Janz demonstrates that he is a legitimate city attorney instead of a politician masquerading as one. He gives his best advice based on his reading of the law without regard to the consequences which, for city attorneys, often means getting fired.
Who knows? There’s always a chance that Esparza and others have totally misread Janz and he’s there to clean up the place from top to bottom.
Accomplishing that mission would bring sanity to Crazy Town and could well earn Janz an easy ticket to Washington, D.C.