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10 takeaways from Brand’s first State of the City

Fresno City Hall

10 takeaways from Brand’s first State of the City

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand gave his first State of the City address on Wednesday. George Hostetter looks at the compelling day in downtown Fresno.

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Fresno Mayor Lee Brand gave his first State of the City address on Wednesday. Ten quick thoughts on a compelling day:

1.) I haven’t been to every State of the City luncheon. But I’ll go out on a limb and say Brand’s effort was the best SOTC speech of them all.

Part of the reason is length. I pegged Brand’s speech at about 25 minutes. Council Member Steve Brandau said 22 minutes is closer to the truth. I’ve endured some SOTC speeches that weren’t close to being done at the 50-minute mark.

The main meeting room at the New Exhibit Hall was packed. A 22-minute speech left everyone in a good mood.

2.) More importantly, Brand’s speech was focused.

The Mayor has a $1.1 billion budget heading to the City Council on Thursday. The budget document runs to hundreds of pages. If you want the state of the Housing Division or the state of the Solid Waste Division, call up the 2017-18 budget online and read to your heart’s content.

Brand on Wednesday made sure everyone’s eye was on the ball.

“My vision for Fresno is economic prosperity, improving public safety, improving the quality of life and uniting our community,” Brand said. “The cornerstone of my vision is economic development.”

That’s a concise message worthy of a Fireside Chat.

3.) I’m a big one for civility in the public square. But I’ll be sorely tempted to raise a ruckus if I ever again hear the Mayor publicly deprecate his speaking skills.

“I know I’m not a great speaker,” Brand said early in the speech. “And you definitely don’t want to hear me sing. What I am is, simply, a humble person who never forgets where he came from, who is blessed with God given talents, and who has found his calling. What I lack in singing and public speaking, I make up for with content and action.”

Lee, we get it. You’re not Alan Autry or Ashley Swearengin when it comes to gabbing in front of an audience. We don’t care. You’re the chief executive of the fifth largest city in a state with an annual gross domestic product bigger than all but a handful of the world’s nations. All you have to do to carry the people is speak confidently and truthfully about the policies of their municipal government.

Please – no more of the Sad Sack routine.

4.) Brand needed only a couple of sentences to thank his team of department directors and his own staff/cabinet. In other words, he gave most of them an en masse shout-out, rather than naming individuals and explaining why each is so special.

SOTC speeches spotlight the leadership habits of mayors. Brand was telling Fresno: These men and women have names. But they’re not being paid handsomely by taxpayers to be showboats. They’re paid to do a job. I appreciate them – but my job is to give them the necessary tools and hold them accountable. I’m not their press agent.

5.) There were two exceptions to this anonymity. Brand introduced Wilma Quan-Schecter, the new city manager as of July 10.

Quan-Schecter “has broken the glass ceiling, becoming the first female city manager in Fresno’s history,” Brand said. “If you listen carefully, you can still hear the echo of that glass ceiling breaking. Wilma, please take a bow.”

6.) Brand also praised current City Manager Bruce Rudd.

Rudd “is the gold standard for anyone who has ever entered public service,” Brand said. “Over the past 41 years, Bruce has worked every job, and handled every crisis. Whenever we needed someone to step up and lead us through tough times, he stepped up. He’s been the backbone of City Hall, and we owe him more than we can possible express. Bruce, please stand and accept the thanks of a grateful city.”

7.) But, I admit to being a bit confused.

Quan-Schecter is no rookie when it comes to City Hall operations. She is currently an assistant city manager. She’s been a deputy city manager. She worked a number of years in the Swearengin Administration as a Downtown revitalization expert.

The learning curve no doubt will be steep when Quan-Schecter moves to the City Manager’s office next month. It no doubt was that way for Jeff Reid, Dan Hobbs, Andy Souza, Mark Scott and Rudd when they made the same (or similar) move.

They sank or swam on their own from Day 1.

Yet, as Brand said on Wednesday, Rudd “has graciously agreed to stay on an extra six to 12 months with the city.”

Why?

I’m reminded of a story in Jean Edward Smith’s wonderful biography of Dwight Eisenhower.

Eisenhower has been called back to Washington, D.C. during World War II to confer with President Roosevelt and top military brass. He then prepares to fly to England, where he’ll get Allied forces ready for D-Day. The North Africa and Sicily campaigns are behind him.

But Eisenhower toys with the idea of taking a brief detour on his trip from America to England. He thinks about visiting old colleagues at Allied headquarters in the Mediterranean theater.

General Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, tells his boss: “You never want to be a guest in the house where you once were master.”

Ike changes his mind.

Is Bruce Rudd for the next year going to be a guest in the house where he once was master? I want to know the backstory.

8.) Brand on Wednesday went into some detail about his Administration’s accomplishments over the last six moths. For example, the Mayor said, City Hall and local business leaders teamed up to raise more than $35,000 “to provide 700 free swim lessons with the goal that every child in Fresno who wants lessons can learn how to swim.”

I like that detail.

Brand said his Administration is all about keeping its promises.

“How did we keep our promises?” the Mayor said. “It’s simple. It’s a word that is the cornerstone of my Administration, the word that shapes every conversation, proposal and innovation – it’s called collaboration. Since the day I took office as Mayor, I have stressed the importance of civic participation and collaboration for out city’s future.”

I listened to those words and thought to myself: “He’s really talking about delegation.”

I know – it’s a State of the City address. Warm, fuzzy concepts like collaboration sell well. But it’s been my experience watching from afar that the Brand Administration has clear ideas about where it wants to go on issues. The Mayor listens to various viewpoints. A consensus is nice to have. But in the end, the Mayor decides. His team then successfully executes the Mayor’s decision or pays a price for its failure.

Take a look at the City Charter. You’ll find more “delegation” than “collaboration” in there. Thank you, Fresno voters of 1992.

9.) Brand on Wednesday again accepted (as he did when unveiling the 2017-18 budget) the challenge of creating 10,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. Those 10,000 new jobs will, in turn, create an estimated 10,000 additional service jobs – the so-called multiplier effect.

The new Amazon e-commerce fulfillment center, with perhaps 2,500 new jobs heading our way, is a big step in that direction.

“Those 20,000 new jobs also mean an estimated $10 million to $20 million more per year in tax revenue by the year 2027,” Brand said. “The revenue increase coupled with the dramatic decreases in our general fund debt service during that time will provide the funding necessary to fulfill our (service) commitment to our residents. This is a game changer, and the fulfillment of my vision for Fresno.”

I hope Fresno’s workforce is ready for this new era.

10.) I finished Wednesday afternoon as part of a roundtable discussion of the Mayor’s speech on “The Trevor Carey Show” on PowerTalk 96.7. Council Members Brandau, Garry Bredefeld and Oliver Baines were the guests of honor. I mostly listened.

The three legislators gave the Mayor high marks for his speech.

I sense they also appreciate brevity and focus.

I’m actually looking forward to the 2018 SOTC speech.

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver and advisor to The Collegian, the student newspaper of Fresno State.

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