FPPC complaint alleges Fresno mayor failed to report donations

Mayor Jerry Dyer delivers his State of the City address at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno on Friday, June 25, 2021.

Mayor Jerry Dyer delivers his State of the City address at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno on Friday, June 25, 2021.

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An anonymous individual has filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and a number of his staff violated the Political Reform Act’s campaign disclosure, disclosure of economic interests and payment disclosure provisions by failing to disclose donations to its One Fresno. Foundation.

Dyer, in an interview with The Bee, flatly denied the allegations, saying they had “absolutely no merit”.

The complaint relates to the imposed payments, which are donations solicited by public officials that are not donations or campaign gifts. The FPPC requires public servants to report payments received within 30 days to ensure transparency.

Many elected officials and government agencies use mandatory payments, from California Governor Gavin Newsom to state legislators and other local municipalities.

The complaint

The FPPC, the state’s political finance watchdog charged with enforcing the Political Reform Act, informed Dyer and others named in the complaint in a letter dated Jan. 6.

The complaint names Dyer and a number of his aides who also serve on the One Fresno Foundation board of directors, including Deputy Mayor Mathew Grundy, Chief of Staff Tim Orman, Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Montelongo and Deputy Director Communications Fabiola Ramirez.

The complaint also names City Manager Thomas Esqueda, although he does not serve on the foundation board. Additionally, the complaint names Monica Diaz, a member of the foundation’s board of directors who is not a city employee.

The complaint alleges that Dyer used the foundation to solicit donations from developers Darius Assemi, Cliff Tutelian and Leland Parnagian beyond the $4,800 maximum campaign contributions allowed.

The complaint also alleges that Dyer and his senior city officials sought and received foundation contributions from Caglia Environment, Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU), Valley Children’s Hospital, Anthem Blue Cross and local developers, but did not not disclose donations as required by the FPPC.

In a Sept. 30 Fresno City Council agenda item, Dyer and Esqueda asked the council to accept a $50,000 donation from the foundation. The complaint alleges it was an attempt by Dyer and City Manager Thomas Esqueda to “wash” foundation money received from donors who violated conflict of interest rules.

Dyer also continues to use his “One Fresno” campaign slogan on city materials at taxpayer expense, according to the complaint.

Dyer’s response

In a phone interview with The Bee, Dyer said he had reviewed the complaint and the city attorney’s office had sent a response to the FPPC.

In addition to saying the complaint is unfounded, Dyer also said the information in the complaint was inaccurate.

For example, Dyer provided The Bee with reporting forms for foundation gifts received totaling $5,000 or more, as required by the FPPC. The forms included donations from EECU, Valley Children’s Hospital, Anthem Blue Cross, CalViva Health and more.

Most donations received by the foundation were unsolicited by him, Dyer said.

Dyer said he had neither requested nor received donations for the foundation from any of the developers named in the complaint. He received campaign donations from a number of developers, but these were separate from the foundation and reported correctly, he said.

As for the foundation’s $50,000 donation to the city, the allegation is incorrect, Dyer said.

That amount of city money was used for Camp Fresno staff, maintenance, programming and more, he said. This happened before the foundation was operational, he said, and the intention was always to reimburse the city from the foundation’s money for half the cost, or $25,000. .

However, when he and Esqueda attempted to put a refund item on the September 30 city council agenda, council member Miguel Arias decided not to hear the item and the refund never got through. place, he said.

Dyer also said he consulted with the city attorney about the use of his “One Fresno” slogan and logo, and that the city attorney’s opinion was that it was acceptable for a accessory use.

Dyer defended the foundation, its board and staff, calling the anonymous complaint “worrying”.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” he said. “We are creating a foundation to relieve the city of certain financial financing burdens. … We try to do the right thing for the people of Fresno, only to be criticized and have an anonymous complaint filed against us, which would create suspicion that this organization is anything but completely legitimate.

A Fresno Foundation

Dyer launched the One Fresno Foundation last year to raise funds to provide opportunities for young people in underserved neighborhoods. So far he has used the money to send hundreds of children to Camp Fresno and thousands to visit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

The nonprofit also raised money for the Mayor’s Beautify Fresno program.

The non-profit organization previously existed as “Fresno First Steps Home” when Ashley Swearengin was mayor. Dyer and his team took the existing foundation and renamed it to speed up the process of starting foundation operations. Two First Steps board members have been retained under the new name of One Fresno, he said.

In 2021, the One Fresno Foundation raised $207,000, Dyer said. The demanded payments he made to The Bee amount to $144,000. Additionally, Dyer and his wife, Diane, donated an additional $25,000 to the foundation, which Dyer was told he did not need to declare. The rest of the foundation’s money was raised through donations of less than $5,000, he said.

So far, the Internal Revenue Service form for nonprofit organizations, a Form 990, has not been filed for the foundation for 2021. It is not due until May.

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Brianna Calix covers Fresno City Hall for The Bee, where she strives to hold officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister newspaper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.

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