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Councilwatch: Council pay raises, inking a new Fresno Unified parks deal

Fresno City Hall

Councilwatch: Council pay raises, inking a new Fresno Unified parks deal

Oliver Baines wants council members to make $80,000 a year; the president would get a raise to $85,000. The mayor’s six-figure salary wouldn’t change.

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I find two items on Thursday’s Fresno City Council agenda to be of particular interest. One deals with green space. The other deals with possible raises for council members.

Let’s begin with green space.

The council will consider a proposed deal with Fresno Unified School District involving Vinland Elementary School and Vinland Park.

The school is on the northeast corner of Gettysburg and Maple avenues, a half-mile south of Fresno State. The park is due east of the school. They share a common border (which is fenced).

The city’s challenges with green space are old hat. We don’t have enough parks. Many of the parks we do have need a lot of repair. We don’t have a bottomless general fund to pay for our green space dream list.

Then-Mayor Ashley Swearengin and the City Council in 2016 approved what’s called a “joint use agreement” with Fresno Unified. In essence, the city expands the green space it makes available to the public by using the green space at selected schools.

For example, I see Parks Department employees on weekends offering various services to the public at the Bullard High School track. The services are part of the department’s Weekend Recreation and Fitness Program.

To sum up: Bullard is a school, not a park. There isn’t a park next to Bullard. Certain parts of the school’s green space are turned into something like a park during certain hours on certain days.

The business model isn’t perfect, but it appears to work.

It turns out that there are 12 spots in Fresno where a city park and a Fresno Unified school are located side-by-side. City officials (in particular Bruce Rudd, the man of many administrative talents) came up with an idea: Why not open the gate in the fence separating school and park so Fresnans can move easily from one green space to another?

With council approval on Thursday, Vinland Park-Vinland School would be the first such marriage.

The other 11 sites on the waiting list are Addams Elementary-Basin XX Park; Ayer Elementary-Sunnyside Park; Ewing Elementary-Carozza Park; Forkner Elementary-Orchid Park; Holland Elementary-Cary Park; Lincoln Elementary-Frank H. Ball Community Center; Robinson Elementary-Robinson Park; Slater Elementary-Lions Park; Starr Elementary-Holman Park; Thomas Elementary-Large Park; Williams Elementary-Quigley Park.

The Vinland Elementary-Vinland Park deal is on the council’s consent calendar. That means the issue won’t get a public airing unless a council member specifically requests it. In other words, City Hall is taking a ho-hum attitude to the Vinland connection.

I love the idea.

It strikes me that one of the challenges in the current “joint use agreement” is getting Fresnans to show up at the participating schools to take part in the Park Department’s offerings. We know that school playgrounds can be sources of recreation. But we still haven’t gotten our minds around the idea of schools as quasi-city parks.

I view the Vinland connection as an inspired cross-marketing operation – two players in the value chain combining special resources to better serve the customer. In the Vinland School-Vinland Park case, the special resource being combined is geography.

A family shows up at Vinland Park for a picnic. The kids see the Vinland School playground on the other side of the fence. The gate is open. The kids enjoy. The parents smile.

Mom and Dad might even say to themselves: Thank you, City Hall and Fresno Unified.

The key in this scenario is the park. That’s why the family shows up in the first place. The open gate to the school is more than serendipity. It’s brand-building.

Now to the possible pay raises for council members.

Council Member Oliver Baines wants to repeal the 11-year-old law setting the salaries of elected officials. Council members make $65,000 a year ($70,169 for the council president). The mayor makes $130,000 a year.

Baines wants council members to make $80,000 a year; the council president would get a raise to $85,000 annually. The mayor’s salary wouldn’t change.

The City Charter prohibits the increase (or decrease) of elected officials’ salaries while they’re in office. Baines’ raises would take effect when a council member begins a new term of office.

Baines and Council President Clint Olivier are termed out in January 2019. They wouldn’t get the raise. Nor would Paul Caprioglio and Steve Brandau, who were elected to second terms last year. (They would get the raise if they left the council for a period of time, then ran for office again and won.)

First-termers Esmeralda Soria, Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez could be re-elected to second terms. That means they might be voting themselves a delayed raise on Thursday.

Baines’ proposal raises again age-old questions at City Hall: Is the job of council member part-time or fulltime? Does a higher salary attract a better field of candidates? Would council members stop working second jobs if they got a big raise?

Here’s an interesting wrinkle in Baines’ proposal: “Effective January 2, 2022 and continuing thereafter, the compensation for services of each Councilmember commencing a new term of office shall be adjusted to 78% of the then current base salary of the members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.”

If I recall correctly, the supervisors’ salaries are tied to the salaries of Superior Court judges. When the judges get a raise, the supes get a raise – no questions asked. The salary formula is such that the supes make six figures a year.

The size of the supes’ salaries, and the ease with which they are raised, drives Fresno City Council members nuts.

I asked City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff if Mayor Lee Brand would support Baines’ proposal. Standriff said Brand would not support it.

“It’ll need five votes,” Standriff said.

Veto-proof.

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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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