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5 Reasons Why Ashley Swearengin Isn’t Qualified for State Controller

By on March 5, 2014
Ashley-Swearengin

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced Wednesday morning that she’s running for State Controller.

What can Californians expect from Swearengin if she’s tapped to serve as the state’s CFO?

Tim Clark, her campaign consultant, summed it up best, “Everybody in Fresno knows when you talk to Ashley you know you have a special individual.”

Here are some of the special highlights of Swearengin’s troubled tenure as mayor of the state’s fifth largest city.

1. Swearengin’s Fiscal Mismanagement: Fresno “dancing close to the abyss”

How bad are the City of Fresno’s finances? Last November, “Fresno ‘not going bankrupt‘” was headline-making news. Much of the city’s financial troubles stem from years of fiscal mismanagement and irresponsible spending. In a speech to the Rotary Club of Fresno, City Manager Bruce Rudd acknowledged the city’s financial problems, or as the Fresno Bee characterized his speech, “the city is dancing close to the abyss.”

Yes, “dancing close to the abyss” was the city’s positive spin in response to a damaging report from the Wall Street Journal. The paper’s financial analysts found that Fresno “ranked almost dead last for cash-on-hand among the nation’s 250 largest cities.” 

Among the city’s money-pits: a costly city-owned baseball stadium for the town’s minor league team, the Fresno Grizzlies. The city owes $3.4 million per year in payments toward the stadium’s construction bonds. The bond payments were supposed to be covered by a $1-per-ticket fee collected by the team. However, City Manager Renena Smith told the Fresno Bee in November that the team was two years in arrears. To make up for the money-ball money-pit, the city had to borrow $14 million from the water department to balance its books. (See point #2)

2. Swearengin Raised Water Rates…

While borrowing money from the water department, Swearengin pushed a controversial plan to raise water rates.  Under Swearengin’s plan, most water users, which include city residents and some unincorporated parts of Fresno County, would see their average monthly bills rise to $48, double what they were last year. The additional revenue would go towards a $410 million upgrade to the city’s aging water system. After the $14 million for the baseball team.

3. …Then Swearengin Sued Taxpayers Trying to Circulate a Petition to Overturn Rate Hike

In September, a group of taxpayers, led by former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim, organized a campaign to overturn the water rate hikes. The city denied the taxpayers a title and summary for their petition. Without a title and summary, the group couldn’t collect the necessary signatures to get a referendum on the ballot. Then, the city sued the taxpayers in an effort to stall the petition from reaching the 2014 ballot.

Even supporters of the water rate hikes have become disgusted with the city’s hardball tactics. Shortly after the first Superior Court ruling, the Fresno Bee editorial board, which backs the water rate increases, chastised Swearengin. “We support the water-rate increases; they are vital to the city’s future,” the paper wrote. “But with these stalling and blocking tactics, Swearengin sends a message that she doesn’t trust Fresno voters to do what’s best for the city.”

4. Swearengin Loves to Conduct Government Business in Secret

Last year, when she wasn’t raising water rates or suing taxpayers, Swearengin participated in the search for a new president of Fresno State University. The search process was conducted in secret and described as “a shameful poke in the eye to all who believe in transparent government.” According to the Fresno Bee, “The closed-door process that is being used to select the next Fresno State president is an example of a growing secrecy that is being used by public officials to make decisions without involving the citizens who pay the bills.” 

Here’s the paper’s recap of the search process:

On Friday, the trustees and a local advisory committee interviewed the Fresno State finalists in secret at a hotel near the Los Angeles airport. The two key officials who blocked access are CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White and CSU Trustee Pete Mehas of Fresno, who is chairing the presidential search panel. This process has been a shameful poke in the eye to all who believe in transparent government.

White and Mehas were joined in shutting out the public by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who participated in the secret interviews, according to her office. Swearengin refused to return reporter phone calls regarding the meeting. This is from a politician who never misses the opportunity to give her spin on an issue to a reporter. So now the mayor’s office is joining with CSU to block citizen access to the presidential search. The secrecy lobby is growing as the city of Fresno and CSU are teaming up against the public.

5. Swearengin’s Disregard for California Public Records Act

In an effort to shed light on this secret presidential search process, a public records request was filed to obtain records through the California Public Records Act. The City of Fresno dragged its feet and then denied the request claiming bogus exemptions. In a subsequent request, the city decreed that all public records requests be limited to “between no more than 3 persons (preferably less), and include only a one or two word subject matter.”

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About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for CalWatchdog.com, FlashReport.org, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.

22 Comments

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  2. Julie Griffiths

    March 9, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I don’t agree with the Mayor on some very key issues. However, to pretend she inherited anything but a sinking ship with no hope of recovery and has managed to start turning it around is revisionist history. Sorry Mike, we are going to disagree on this one. I disagree with HSR and the General Plan, but she has made some seriously sound fiscal choices for Fresno. Albeit, unpopular on both sides of the aisle, but many fiscally sound decisions. Cant deny her that fact.

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