Documenter: Heather Halsey Martinez

The Scene

The Clovis City Council meeting took place on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 at 6 p.m. The meeting followed the storming of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6. Several dozen President Trump supporters also gathered that day outside Sierra Vista Mall. It was reported that Mouanoutoua was in attendance and was quoted acknowledging Joe Biden as the rightful winner of the presidential election. 

The seats of Ashbeck and Mouanoutoua are up for reelection on March 2. Following the filling of those seats, the council will also elect a new mayor and mayor pro tem among themselves. 

The meeting was made available via Webex and YouTube Live. 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. Lynne Ashbeck was the only councilmember to wear a face mask throughout the meeting. The other councilmembers did not wear face masks while seated during the meeting. 

Names of officials:

Drew Bessinger, Mayor (also Chief of Police, Fresno Yosemite International Airport)

Jose Flores, Mayor Pro Tem (also Chief of Police, State Center Community College District Police Department)

Lynne Ashbeck, Councilmember (also Senior Vice President Community Engagement and Population Wellness, Valley Children’s Healthcare)

Vong Mouanoutoua, Councilmember (also External Relations and Project Development Director, Community Medical Foundation)

Bob Whalen, Councilmember (also Fresno County Deputy District Attorney)

The meeting opened with city employee, Ann Bianchi, being congratulated on her retirement and recognized for 37 years of service. She was described as, “the heartbeat of the senior center,” for the many roles she took on since starting with the city in 1983. Bessinger presented Bianchi with a, “challenge coin,” which he passed to her in a napkin because he said he wanted to be cognizant of health concerns. Ashbeck teared up and said, “Clovis is a better place because you were here.” Whalen, Flores and Mouanoutoua also commented on her contributions and mentioned the new senior center that is under construction. Several of her colleagues were also in attendance.  

Then Bessinger took the opportunity to comment on the events in the nation’s capital on January 6. “Unfortunately, we live in an environment right now where we have so many grievances, with each other, with our government, it’s not a good time in our nation’s history. However, the forced entry into the Capitol chambers by a mob, the interruption of the legislative process and acts of violence and destruction within the capitol were criminal acts. The violators should be prosecuted and jailed just like the people for the last year have been destroying public buildings…As Americans we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this political violence even if we are in agreement or sympathetic to the cause at hand. We cannot continue to condone one mob’s violent protests and then condemn another mob. This violence must stop and it should have been stopped by the leaders in our nation, who in my opinion abdicated their oaths to the American people and focused on either being a loyal Democrat or a loyal Republican, and not loyal to the people who they serve.” 

He invited the council to also comment on the domestic terrorism. Flores also compared what happened in the capital with the protests that occurred in the summer, saying, “Violence is violence, no matter who’s doing it and we have to stop it. On March 2, we’ll have an election here in Clovis and we need to be transparent so people know our elections are transparent and will happen and no one is favored.”

Ashbeck also took the opportunity to comment, saying, “For me in this moment, I want to recommit to the notion of local government and local issues and make sure that the words I personally use do more to build bridges than to divide people along party lines or any other line we might draw.”

From there, the meeting was opened for public comments. Clovis resident Brenda Farris was in chambers and commented on her concerns with issues in and around her apartment complex. Another resident and former Clovis business owner commented via Webex regarding the storming of the Capitol and chastised the council for some of their comments, “I don’t think it helps anybody to say that both sides do it. This was a specific act of insurrection against the United States, it was an attempt to overthrow a legal and certified election…At least two members of the city council have attended demonstrations recently, lending support of the City of Clovis in their roles by being there and it’s lending support to the idea that the election, somehow, was fraudulent. I’m asking the city council to pass a resolution condemning the actions of the uprising in the capital and affirming the results of the November election. I think this will help tamp down further escalations in this kind of movement and demonstrations.” The final public comment came from a resident who connected via Webex to express concern about the closure of the Enterprise Trail where local residents had closed off the trail by fencing it off creating a hazard for pedestrians. It was explained that the property is under the jurisdiction of Fresno County. 

 Actions

  • Authorized the City Manager to sign the Master Instructional Agreement between Fresno City College and City of Clovis Fire Department. Flores abstained since he is Chief of Police for the State Center Community College District. But it was approved unanimously by the other councilmembers without discussion. 

  • Amended the City’s classification and compensation plan by revising public safety dispatcher and lead public safety dispatcher classifications in the police department. Approved unanimously without discussion. 

  • Approved a $5.3 million contract for construction of a new Fire Station 6, located near the intersection of Loma Vista Parkway and Encino Avenue near the center of the Loma Vista development. The contract was awarded to Seals Construction, Inc. of Visalia, the lowest bidder out of six. The construction estimate provided by the architect is $8.2 million and two lowest bids were separated by $20,000. The other low bid was from Mark Wilson Construction. 

    • A $5 million inter-fund loan from the water fund to the general government services fund will finance the construction. City Manager Luke Serpa said the water fund has a balance of approximately $40-$50 million, and the loan will come specifically from a portion of the funds that the city was awarded in 2016 litigation against Shell Oil Co. for TCP water contamination, as well as TCP settlements from other companies. When asked about whether the money would need to be spent on upcoming TCP projects, Serpa said, “We anticipate being able to make this loan and pay it back well before it’s ever needed for TCP treatment.” 

  • The council approved bypassing the RFP process and awarded a $1.4 million contract for the design and construction management services for Fire Station 2 at 2300 Minnewawa Avenue. It was awarded to Taylor Group and Vanir Construction Management, who recently completed the design of Fire Station 6. Several councilmembers asked questions about skipping the process and deemed it appropriate since it will expedite the process by about 3 months and is an urgent need since the current station has substantial structural deficiencies, in additon to ADA compliance issues. The total project will cost approximately $10 million and construction will go out for bid. 

To close the meeting, the council discussed the impact of ongoing city operations during the COVID-19 emergency. City Manager Luke Serpa spoke and gave an update on cases. He hasn’t received updated statistics for Clovis from the Fresno County Department of Public Health in three weeks. But he said that he has been told that there were 25 new deaths due to COVID-19 in Clovis, but he was awaiting confirmation on that number. The number is considerably higher than the previous record of 10 deaths due to COVID-19 reported in one week. 

Whalen thanked the Clovis Police Department and law enforcement in recognition of National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on January 9. “It is one of the reasons I think that Clovis has such a solid reputation as being a good place to raise a family,” he said. He then drew attention to an image onscreen that he had seen shared online, which said, “Right now the world is looking at the U.S. the same way Clovis looks at Fresno.” He went on to comment on the recent uptick in crime in Fresno and said there was a shooting that morning just a block from where he works at the Fresno County District Attorney’s office. “Things are crazy in Fresno, and sometimes I feel like they are crazy in Sacramento, and certainly it was crazy last week in Washington D.C., but they’re not crazy here and I want to make sure that we don’t let it become that way here by losing sight of our values and our principles in the City of Clovis.”

Mouanoutoua’s final comments were to encourage them to work together and maintain unity. “We’re decent people doing good work for the people and that’s what we offer the rest of the world and what we offer to Clovis,” he said. “I will never bash you in public, nor will I ever fear that you will bash me in public because we can just be decent people together.”

Flores made his final remarks by pointing out that three Clovis city councilmembers were indicted by the FBI prior to himself being elected in 1999, as part of the Operation Rezone investigation. “We are elected for one role and one role only and that is to be visionaries and be the one that has the legislative powers of the city,” he said.

Bessinger ended the meeting by comparing the events that occurred in the capital to the protests that have occurred in Clovis. “We had protests, frankly, that I have bragged about that…even if you disagree with what they’re saying, they’re doing it in a lawful, respectful way.” he said. “We have some challenges coming up and we’re just going to have meet them and it’s not going to be easy.”

The meeting lasted a little over two hours and ended just after 8 p.m.

Summary

  • Like most of the country, the councilmembers were still reeling from the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. 

  • The council moved forward the construction of the city’s sixth fire station on Loma Vista Parkway and Encino Avenue by approving a $5.3 million construction contract to Seals Construction, Inc. of Visalia. It was the lowest of six bids submitted and came in under the architect’s estimated budget of $8.2 million.

  • The council also moved forward the construction of a fire department training facility and a replacement building for the city’s Fire Station 2 on Minnewawa Avenue. The council ruled to bypass the RFP process to expedite the process since the current building has substantial structural deficiencies and does not meet current ADA requirements. It approved a $1.4 million contract for the design and construction management services to Taylor Group and Vanir Construction Management.

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