A Fresno planning commissioner resigned his seat after inquiries from GV Wire about whether holding that position and an elected school board job clash.
“In order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, I have resigned from my position on the Commission,” Rob Fuentes wrote Friday morning on social media.
Voters elected Fuentes to the State Center Community College District Board in November. He was sworn in Dec. 13, 2022. However, holding both a school board and planning commission position may have run afoul of the law.
GV Wire asked Fuentes, the city of Fresno, and the State Center district about the potential violation of the law, Government Code 1099, which states that no one can hold “incompatible” offices.
City Attorney Andrew Janz referred questions to the mayor’s office to avoid violating attorney-client privilege.
Mayor Jerry Dyer — who nominates all seven planning commissioners, with the Fresno City Council voting to approve, said he’s been advised not to comment.
“Were’ going to fill (the position) soon,” he said in a brief answer.
The 2005 state law codified what was already common law — that no one shall hold incompatible jobs at the same time. While the law does not identify what positions are incompatible, it does set the standard:
(1) Either of the offices may audit, overrule, remove members of, dismiss employees of, or exercise supervisory powers over the other office or body.
(2) Based on the powers and jurisdiction of the offices, there is a possibility of a significant clash of duties or loyalties between the offices.
(3) Public policy considerations make it improper for one person to hold both offices.
Fuentes’ dual positions might have violated provisions 2 and 3. The law says it does not apply to “advisory boards.”
Legal experts GV Wire spoke with said a definition of an “advisory board” is not clear in California law.
While the planning commission is described as “advisory” on the city website, the city Charter gives the board more teeth. It is allowed to “Exercise such control over land subdivisions as is granted to it by the Council” and “Exercise such functions with respect to zoning and land use as may be prescribed by ordinance, not inconsistent with the provisions of this Charter.”
Some call the board “quasi-judicial.”
Also, decisions made by the planning commission that are not appealed to the city council are final.
Prior Interpretation Said Seats Not Compatible
A 2001 Attorney General’s opinion shed light on the compatibility of a city planning commission and a school board on a nearly identical question.
“A person may not serve simultaneously as a member of a city planning commission and as a member of a school district board of trustees if the city and the school district have territory in common,” then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer wrote.
Both State Center and the city share territory in common. The law states that the public officer forfeits the first office upon taking the second. Fuentes was sworn in to his State Center job on Dec. 13.
There have been three planning commission meetings since — on Dec. 21 and Jan. 4. Fuentes was absent at the Feb. 1 planning commission meeting. All votes taken during those two meetings were either 6-0 or 7-0. It is not known if there are any consequences for Fuentes taking part in those votes.
Fuentes served two stints on the planning commission, a job appointed by Dyer to be his voice on city land use matters.
Dyer appointed Fuentes in 2021, but he resigned a few months later to explore a run for the state Senate in 2022, which would require him to move out of Fresno. When Fuentes decided not to run, nor move, Dyer reappointed him to the commission. Instead, Fuentes ran and won for the community college board seat.
The issue of incompatible offices came up during a Jan. 10 SCCCD presentation on ethics.
“Generally you can’t do that,” presenter and attorney Eileen O’Hare-Anderson told Fuentes and the rest of the SCCCD board. But she also said such boards are advisory and not part of the law.