Documenter: Heather Halsey Martinez
The Clovis City Council meeting took place on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020 at 6 p.m. The meeting followed a weekend Trump rally that was held in Clovis and hosted by the Fresno County Republican Party. Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger was a speaker at the Dec. 12 rally and was quoted in a Fresno Bee article telling those in attendance, “don’t trust them,” referring to those of the Democratic party when they, “extend their hand in friendship.”
The meeting was made available via Webex and the agenda states that face masks are required for those who attend in person due to COVID-19. All council members were in council chambers, except for Lynne Ashbeck who was on Webex. Council members did not wear face masks while seated during the meeting.
Names of officials:
Drew Bessinger, Mayor
Jose Flores, Mayor Pro Tem
Lynne Ashbeck, Councilmember*
Vong Mouanoutoua, Councilmember
Bob Whalen, Councilmember
The meeting opened with council members and speakers congratulating and thanking Deputy City Planner Orlando Ramirez for 30 years of service. They joked about the opening of his career being a potbellied pig ordinance and nearly closing his career with a chicken ordinance, referring to the proposed backyard chicken ordinance that the council delayed voting on in July.
Public comments opened with Matthew Grundy, outgoing CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Fresno Area, thanking the council and community for their partnership. “The City of Clovis is the absolute best to work with in terms of housing,” he said. “The Clovis way of life in our context has meant you all doing whatever you can for those who are rich or poor, those who have means and no means, those who are black and white, all throughout the community where everyone has a place to call home.”
Grundy is moving on to be the deputy mayor for the City of Fresno and introduced his replacement as CEO, Danny Armenta, a 33-year resident of Clovis who said, friends jokingly refer to him as, “the mayor of Clovis.”
From there, the public comments focused on the actions and words spoken by Mayor Bessinger at the Trump Rally on Dec. 12. Three residents called in to express their disdain for Bessinger’s comments, while there were also 12 e-mails written by residents and submitted to the council commenting on his actions. First Clovis resident, Lauren Butler, read the mayor’s quote from the Fresno Bee and asked Bessinger to, “do better when you speak publicly and when you represent the City of Clovis.” “Publicly and proudly encouraging residents to mistrust one another during a global pandemic…is antithetical to public service,” Butler said.
Next 28-year Clovis resident, Patrick Kelly, a professor of biological sciences at California State University, Stanislaus said he felt obliged to speak out in response to Bessinger’s comments. “I found the mayor’s comments to be divisive and do not reflect well on the office he holds or on the City as a whole.”
Kelly also commented on COVID-19 infection rates and cited studies on the risks of dining out. He expressed concern for the “protest dining” that he saw happening at restaurants in Old Town Clovis on Saturday night. “A number of establishments I know well and also frequent under normal circumstances, were open for indoor dining, “ he said. “Simply put, this is lunacy, we need to stop playing Russian roulette with not only our own lives, but also the lives of our loved ones and the lives of our healthcare workers and first responders.”
Next Clovis resident and attorney, David Rowell, called for Mayor Bessinger to resign or be censured by the council and for them to, “publicly disavow his partisan comments,” because they bring shame to the City of Clovis. “As the Mayor of Clovis, he stood in front of this crowd and encouraged them to reject the rule of law to reject collegiality, to reject cooperation and governance from those with whom his views differ.” Rowell said. “I think that’s shameful and divisive. It seems to me that if Mayor Bessinger sees himself as an advocate for a particular point of view then he should resign from his position as the mayor of Clovis and he should associate with some advocacy group.”
Bessinger did acknowledge the comments he made at the rally saying that only one comment he made was quoted and that he was referring to, “the divisiveness that we’ve experienced over the last four years and that we’ve seen people burn cities, attack police, burn police cars, burn government buildings and if these people, not the good citizens of the community.” He went on to say that he cannot unite with people who committed such acts because, “his values do not match their values.”
The council moved forward the Clovis Landmark Square development, which will include a senior center, transit center and a new library. Flores recused himself from voting due to the proximity of a property he owns to the development. All remaining members voted to approve AMG & Associates as the low bidder in the amount of $16,650,300 out of 4 bids that were submitted. They also approved Kitchell CEM, Inc. to provide full-time construction management services for Landmark Square. They announced that the project was awarded $1 million toward the senior center from the Smittcamp Family Foundation. Ashbeck commented on the significance of moving the project forward amid the pandemic, as it is one of the largest buildings the city has ever built. “I think it says that even in times that are difficult, the City of Clovis can move forward and make investments that will serve our community well in the next 50 years or beyond.”
The council voted to allow the Clovis Botanical Garden, in partnership with Fresno Street Eats, to host a food truck event with alcoholic beverages and live entertainment on Thursdays from April 8-May 27.
The council passed an amendment to the Clovis Development Code that will require permits for emergency electrical generator use in residential zone districts and introduce a new maximum height restriction for hotels, among other items.
Amendments to the 2019-2020 Budget were approved and it was noted that the impact of COVID-19 was not as much as previously thought. Sales and use tax came in higher than forecasted. General fund revenue was adjusted down due to COVID-19, yet prior year’s sales tax put the over original estimates, leaving them, “cautiously optimistic and pleasantly surprised.”
City Attorney David Wolfe of Lozano Smith is stepping down due to retirement and Scott Cross was approved as his replacement. Mayor Bessinger wanted to present him with a street sign in appreciation, but said, “I’ve been coughing so I’ll just leave this up there,” as he placed the sign on the railing across from his desk. Wolfe and others in the room nervously laughed as Bessinger said, “I have a little tickle in my throat.”
City Manager Luke Serpa mentioned amending several internal leave policies due to OSHA regulations and the possibility that employees may need to quarantine and exhaust other leave resources. He said about 20 city employees have had COVID-19 and possibly one had caught it during their duties for the city. Many council members then began asking about flu rates and how they coincide with the spiking COVID-19 cases.
After four hours, a cheerful photo of the Old Town Clovis horse-drawn carriage with several passengers aboard was put on the screen. It was apparently taken on Saturday and a man driving the carriage and a passenger can be seen not wearing face masks. Comments were made about how nice it was to have, “some normalcy,” for the holidays. Council members wished each other well for the holidays and made their final comments:
At the request of Ashbeck, the Mayor will write a letter in support of Senator Andreas Borgeas’ proposals that aim to bring relief and assistance to people and businesses affected by COVID-19, enhance wildfire response capabilities and provide services to rural California.
Mouanoutoua proposed that the council donate their salaries to a charity, such as the Clovis meals program or Salvation Army food drive as a gesture of goodwill during these trying times, but it was met with nervous laughs and silence from the others.
Bessinger rounded out the meeting by apologizing for the angry phone calls about his comments over the weekend. “If the Bee had reported it correctly, they would have put it into context and people would’ve said, ‘well, I’m a reasonable person, I’m not OK with people burning cities and police cars and taking over government buildings and beating people up, so we have the same values.’ But that’s not how it was reported, so that’s a little frustrating.”
The City of Clovis approved contracts for construction and construction management services for the Clovis Landmark Square development, an estimated $19.7 million project, which will include a senior center, transportation center and new library. The Smittcamp Family Foundation has donated $1 million that will be used for the senior center and likely provide naming rights.
Mayor Bessinger’s comments at the weekend Trump rally drew ire from residents who wrote emails and made comments during the meeting, including one who called for his resignation.
Fiscally, the City of Clovis has fared better than their projections, which were adjusted down due to COVID-19, but it may be due in large part to prior year’s sales tax that it received from the state.