All in all, Fresno’s manager-in-chief had a dandy first year in office.
That is Lee Brand’s assessment of his rookie season at the helm of City Hall. That is my judgment, as well.
Let’s hope fate doesn’t get jealous of the city’s success.
“Year One was a busy year,” Brand told me during a recent interview in his City Hall office. “Being on the (city) council is one thing. Being mayor is different. You can’t be a one-man show. You have to delegate. So, I had to assemble a really good team. I combined some holdovers such as Mark (Standriff, the city’s communications director) with some new people such as Tim (Orman, the mayor’s chief of staff). It took three or four months for things to really jell – who is good at this, who is good at that.
“But by mid-year, we were really in stride.”
You don’t have to be a City Hall wonk to know the general outline of our municipal government’s performance in 2017.
There was a new initiative to upgrade rental housing and a new campaign to bolster confidence in the Police Department. Wall Street lenders regained faith in the city’s ability to handle money. Two huge e-commerce companies decided Fresno is pivotal to their logistical strategy.
The roster of sworn police officers is on its way to breaking the 800-cop barrier for the first time in years. The state earmarked $70 million in cap-and-trade funds for regeneration in the Downtown area. Fulton Street reappeared between Inyo and Tuoulmne after a 53-year absence. The general fund reserve holds a big pile of legal tender instead of cobwebs. Two longstanding fights – City Hall vs. Fresno County, administration vs. labor – appear to have gone dormant.
Wilma Quan-Schecter, who got her start at City Hall as a Downtown revitalization expert, is now the city manager; Jane Sumpter, who got her start at City Hall as a budget numbers-cruncher, is now the assistant city manager; Bruce Rudd, Quan-Schecter’s predecessor, has taken on the role of interim assistant director of just about everything.
There was a downside to 2017, of course. Homicides were up. Gang wars inspired a mid-year summit meeting involving Chief Jerry Dyer and West Fresno leaders. Certain pipes in North Fresno delivered discolored water to angry customers.
And there was the usual array of farces. For a while there it looked like certain City Council members would refuse to ever play nice with newcomer Garry Bredefeld. Bredefeld, for his part, aggressively took on any perceived slight in a New York minute.
For the most part, though, civic affairs in the fifth most populous city in California and the 34th most populous city in America moved ahead just fine. Fresno has a strong mayor government. Fair or not, the chief executive gets the credit or the blame for all that happens on his watch.
Brand is justified in taking an early bow.
“One thing I’ve learned is you can’t just do something and walk away from it,” Brand said. “You have to constantly monitor what you’re trying to get done. And you have to have the right people in the right place. That’s what we’ve done.”
It’s important at this point in our story to remind readers of Brand’s style of governing and where he wants to take Fresno.
Brand has the head of a manager, the soul of an engineer and the heart of a Rotarian. He believes enlightened rationalism combined with a collaborative spirit can solve just about any problem coming across his desk.
Fresno’s 22nd mayor was sworn in on Jan. 5, 2017 at City Hall. He sounded this theme to a standing room only audience.
“The election is over,” Brand said. “As of right now, the slate is clean. We are all in this together now. This is not labor vs. management. This is not police vs. citizen. This is not landlord vs. tenant. This is the City of Fresno moving forward as one. And I look forward to walking down that long and challenging road together.”
But smart management means making hard choices among all those forks in the road. Brand made clear in our interview which path he focused on in 2017 and where his grand strategy will take Fresno in the years to come: Work.
You don’t have jobs if you don’t have employers.
Said Brand to me: “It is my goal when I am finished is to have Fresno recognized as the most business friendly city in California.”