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Fresno Council Members Push For Pay Transparency Act

Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
Council President Baines (center) and member Brand (left)

Two Fresno City Council members are taking a stand against what they consider to be secretive bonuses to top administration officials.

Several high-ranking city leaders were given more than $200,000 in bonuses and deferred compensation over the past two years. The issue raised the ire of the City Council because they say Mayor Ashley Swearengin did not follow city law and disclose their total compensation. Disclosure of public employee pay is required by the city’s 2010 Transparency Act.

Now, Council President Oliver Baines and Council member Lee Brand, who is running for mayor, are introducing an ordinance that they say will make the pay of top city officials clearer.

Baines says employees receiving bonuses isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of council and public awareness of how they are paid.

“We take very serious our role, as policy makers, of making sure that everything we do in government is above board and transparent. In this particular issue, that did not occur,” Baines said.

The proposal would require a more comprehensive explanation of the wages and bonuses to be posted to the city’s website. This would include a breakdown of any salary, bonuses, and other benefits like leave and auto allowances.

In addition, it would limit bonuses to five percent of total pay and prohibit compensation from exceeding salary ranges.

All of this information would be compared to similarly sized cities.

These rules would only apply to about 1% of city employees, generally high ranking, who are not currently represented by a union.

All of the information about the compensation was contained in the contracts but the council members said there was a breakdown in communication about the pay structures.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin takes responsibility failing to follow city law and supports the changes included in the resolution.

“From my perspective, we have to make sure that this doesn’t happen in the future. And I think it is terrific the policy recommendations that are being made,” Swearengin said.

Swearengin said she considered the bonuses to be retention bonuses designed to keep people on staff as long as possible while keeping pay competitive.

Council member Brand also took a stand against bonuses in city contracts, saying officials should simply be paid what they are worth.

He vowed to do away with the practice should he be elected mayor.

“If two years from now I am the mayor, I will pretty much do away with bonuses. But I will pay people what they deserve. Subject to the approval of City Council,” Brand said.

The resolution goes before the council on Thursday. It would take effect immediately.

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.