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The next target for Lee Brand: Reorganizing this DARM department

Fresno City Hall

The next target for Lee Brand: Reorganizing this DARM department

The time has come for Mayor Lee Brand to choose: reorganize Development and Resource Management or rename it to the “Grab Bag Department.”

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A reorganization could be coming to Fresno’s Development and Resource Management Department.

If not, then Mayor Lee Brand should face reality and give DARM its proper name – the Grab Bag Department.

DARM’s structure and culture have become policy issues in the wake of an investigation into the department’s handling of federal grants. In particular, an inspector general with the Department of Housing and Urban Development is most unhappy with the fate of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money in City Hall’s hands.

I’ve written about the IG’s recent report twice for CVObserver. No need here to repeat the feds’ stinging criticisms.

SEE ALSO: Fed probe focuses on Swearengin’s dogged misuse of block grants for code enforcement

But one of the items that caught my eye was a paragraph in a letter to HUD from City Manager Wilma Quan-Schecter.

The brief letter is what you’d expect from an official trying to play nice with powerful superiors while leaving all options open.

Quan-Schecter writes that “the City recognizes that there is an ongoing need for improvement, specifically related to recordkeeping and documentation. I am confident that the City has administered CDBG funds for meaningful activities that have contributed to significant improvements for low to moderate income neighborhoods. The City is currently evaluating options for additional technical assistance necessary to resolve any outstanding items in a timely fashion and is committed to continuing the existing work with HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development Division to resolve all the issues raised.”

It’s the paragraph’s last sentence that grabs the attention of an old City Hall reporter.

“In addition,” Quan-Schecter writes, “the City is currently evaluating the most effective placement of this work within our organization to ensure compliance for recordkeeping and financial management of entitlement programs.”

Granted, there are several ways to read the entire paragraph. Does “this work” refer to the evaluation of options for additional technical assistance? To the City Hall-HUD effort to resolving outstanding items in a timely fashion? To resolving all issues raised? All of the above?

I don’t know. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Bottom line: CDBG money is managed by DARM. So, too, is federal money with a social services theme such as HOME funds. And for years DARM has botched the job.

Fresnans elect mayors to fix things at City Hall. Brand took office in January.

Mayors, in turn, hire a city manager to implement those fixes. Quan-Schecter became city manager in July.

I asked last week if Quan-Schecter is planning to reorganize DARM. City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff emailed this statement from the city manager: “We’re working through the process to address the recommendations from the HUD audit, but there’s nothing to report at this time.”

Jennifer Clark is DARM’s director. I don’t see her mentioned specifically in the IG’s report. But the report is anything but kind to the DARM director.

A case can be made that the report is unfair to Clark.

In my opinion, DARM is simply too big to be effectively managed by one person. It’s time for the Mayor and his team to rearrange the delivery and administration of all the services currently under DARM’s umbrella.

DARM has planning and development. You want to build a 100-unit single-family housing project? Go to DARM. You want to add a patio to your restaurant? Go to DARM. You want to build a million-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center? Go to DARM.

When you think of growth and jobs, you think of DARM. Without growth and jobs, Fresno dies. The wise regulation and prompt permitting of growth (whether it be infill or on the city’s edges) and the jobs that growth brings is a huge and daunting job all by itself.

And we all know there’s constant conflict and controversy surrounding growth and jobs.

But planning/development is just one part of DARM’s mission. DARM also deals with code enforcement, community revitalization, historic preservation, housing and community development (think CDBG/social services) and parking.

Each is fraught with complexity and, from a political standpoint, danger.

Take, for example, code enforcement. The last two years of Ashley Swearengin’s second term and the first six months of the Brand era were filled with code enforcement anger and legislation. Big (and perhaps over-optimistic) promises about the revolutionary potential of code enforcement have been made to Fresnans. The Brand Administration is currently revamping a code enforcement division whose mission seems to expand every time local social activists come up with a new beef.

My point isn’t whether this expansion is right or wrong. I’m merely asking: If code enforcement is so big and important, should it be on the same director’s plate as planning/development? Or, is there a better way to manage things at the level below the City Manager’s Office?

City Hall hasn’t always had a department specifically named Development and Resource Management. All of the duties currently under DARM may have been there, but it was Swearengin who put everything under something called DARM.

As I told Communications Director Standriff last week, I don’t recall former planning director Nick Yovino ever being required to speak at length in public on the nuances of CDBG law. Nick spoke at length on planning/development, and did a great job of it.

Brand in his eight years on the City Council showed a passion for effective organization. The stadium lease, Convention Center operations, streetlight security – he reformed all these issues and more from his seat on the dais.

Now, as mayor, he’s got real operational power.

DARM should be his next target.

And while you’re at it, Mayor, get rid of the department’s name.

“Resource Management” – what’s that?


Photo: The Fresno Bee

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George Hostetter

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

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Dan Waterhouse

    August 29, 2017 at 5:10 am

    Let’s see. Back in the day, parking enforcement came under the police department (think meter maids and cadets cruising in carts). CBDG/HUD/revitalization was its own department with a manager who reported to the City Manager. Code enforcement? Didn’t exist. Ditto for historic preservation. DARM was the planning and development department. Over the decades it became the convenient dumping ground for activities.

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