Documenter: Rachel Youdelman

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Board approved one-time supplemental payments for County employees, all of whom are designated “essential workers.” Payment amount was determined by total weekly hours worked: $1,500 for those working full-time, $750 for part-timers.

  • Staff from the Department of Social Services (DSS) gave a presentation regarding foster care and housing for difficult-to-place youth, about 1% of the total number of children in the foster-care system, who remain in temporary housing. COVID-related delays in opening a new facility in Clovis were brought to the attention of the Board; the new facility is expected to open in late April. Revelations regarding scandalous conditions in foster-care housing made public last November caused lingering concern. Chairman Pacheco has declared foster care to be a priority.

  • In response to pressure from County employees, Chairman Pacheco ordered a compensation study, which CAO Nerland promised to deliver before 1 June. Pacheco, who promised when installed as chairman to make County employee compensation a priority, said that Fresno County employees should not be tempted to leave their jobs for more highly paid jobs in other counties. 

Board (all present)

Brian Pacheco, 1st District, Chairman 

Sal Quintero, 3rd District, Vice-Chairman

Steve Brandau, 2nd District 

Buddy Mendes, 4th District 

Nathan Magsig, 5th District 

Also Present

Paul Nerland, County Administrative Officer (CAO)

Daniel C. Cederborg, County Counsel

Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors

The Scene

Chairman Pacheco opened the meeting at 9:30AM. Roll-call was followed by invocation and flag salute. Supervisor Magsig introduced Clovis City Council member and deputy district attorney for Fresno County, Bob Whalen, to give the invocation. Magsig typically brings religious fervor into the Board meetings when the opportunity allows: “What I like about Bob is that he loves Jesus Christ!” he remarked, appearing to presume that others share his enthusiasm. Magsig was thankful that Whalen did not run for Clovis City Council in 2003, when Magsig himself ran and won, expressing concern about Whalen’s potential formidability as an opponent. Whalen’s prayer reflected fatalism and an authoritarian bent, as he appealed to a heavenly “father” who is “in control of all things” and according to whose foreordained “plan” all earthly events happen. He declared that public service is a “ministry” by which he and other public servants serve “you,” meaning a god. This speech was quickly followed by the flag salute. The Clerk, Bernice Seidel, read all of the agenda items, and Pacheco kept the meeting moving at a crisp pace, while summarizing all points with clarity and focus.

Agenda Item #1 Approval of agenda. Approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #2 Consent agenda, items 13-37. Brandau pulled items 34 and 35 for discussion. Excluding items 34 and 35, approved 5-0. Regarding item 34, Hollis Magill from the County Human Resources department spoke about a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the sheriff’s department, which entailed a $1500 per-person, one-time payment to full-time employees of the sheriff’s department and a $750 per-person, one-time payment to employees of the sheriff’s department working under 32 hours per week. Other features of the MOU included cost-of-living (COLA) increases, retention pay, and increase in County contribution to health-insurance. Brandau tried to comment, slurped his coffee, and seemed to struggle speaking, his voice sounding odd. He cut his comments short. Item #34 passed 5-0. Item #35 designates “all County employees who as of January 18, 2022, occupy a permanently allocated position, as ‘Essential Workers.’ ” Additionally, a $1500 per-person, one-time payment to full-time employees of the County and a $750 per-person, one-time payment to employees working under 32 hours per week. Brandau was the sole opponent of this item, though he did not say why he approved the similar measure for the sheriff’s department. Again, his speech was slurred, and he seemed to have difficulty speaking. “My voice is messed up,” he noted. Passed 4-1.

Agenda Item #3 Hiring of dispatch staff for the city of Mendota, sheriff’s office in Mendota. Little discussion. Approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #4 Kirk Haynes, Chief Probation Officer, spoke about the changes in law regarding criminal administrative fees which may be charged by courts or other entities. This hearing was the first of two which will amend the County of Fresno Master Schedule of Fees for juvenile drug testing and similar administrative items. A second hearing will be held 1 Feb 2022. Effective 1 Jan 2022, AB 177 repeals the County’s authority to collect debts from individuals for drug testing, administrative fees, etc. The State has allocated $25 million for FY 2021-22 and $50 million annually thereafter to compensate for associated losses of revenue. Fresno County’s specific amount is not yet known; the legislature will draft additional legislation by March 2022 to finalize the funding allocation for each County. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #5 Clerk Seidel read this agenda text, and all other items, extremely fast. This item concerned speed limits. Ryan Cardoza from the Public Works and Planning Department gave a brief presentation, a first hearing on the matter. A second hearing is scheduled for 22 Feb. The proposed ordinance will bring changes to 18 speed zones. 15 new speed zones will be introduced, as well as a decrease of speed in one zone. Approved 5-0.

Agenda Item #6 Department of Social Services (DSS) presentation regarding foster care. CAO Paul Nerland introduced DSS staff, including Maria Aguirre and Tricia Gonzalez; Katherine Martindale, deputy director of employment services, was also present. A fairly long discussion ensued. Aguirre said that because of reductions in available placements for youth in the system, urgent solutions were sought to place them and meet their needs, the goal being to place them as quickly as possible. The preparation of a new facility in Clovis for foster youth was expected to be ready at the end of April, and still may be, but there are possible delays because of COVID as well as staffing and supply shortages. Relatives and family members are still a priority for placement of foster youths. The discussion among DSS staff and the Board went on to note that there is a temporary shelter for housing foster youth for which funding has been requested. At this shelter, each child stays a maximum of three to five days. Nerland interjected a comment about compensation for social workers and said that he wanted to “beat” other counties in attracting qualified applicants. 

Pacheco then complimented Aguirre, Interim Director of DSS, for her work to date and reiterated his intention to make foster care a priority of his chairmanship. He obliquely referred to news of last November regarding poor treatment of foster children under the auspices of DSS. He acknowledged that COVID made expediting plans difficult and that the delayed opening of the new foster-care facility was understandable. He pointed out that the Board had approved hazard pay but noted that supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE) must be kept at adequate levels at the DSS. He asked if kids and employees were being tested; he was “shocked” that youths can walk in and walk out freely per state law and wanted to know how they were being tested and how staff are being protected. Aguirre and her staff replied that kids were tested if they are symptomatic and that everyone is given PPE, including masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. Pacheco pressed for details: what were the protocols for infected workers who use a government car? Is the car disinfected? The procedure regarding disinfecting cars was described by DSS staff. 

Pacheco asked about staff training. There are trainings for mental-health first-aid, how to find placements for foster youth, and for de-escalating anger without “putting hands” on a youth. Staff schedules a variety of training sessions and invites employees to attend.

Pacheco asked about security and protection of employees. At the Clovis facility, for example, though the lobby is public, it is staffed with guards, and a badge is required for entry after visitors pass through a metal detector. Supervisor Quintero asked if a bell or buzzer could be installed on the front door, making the lobby private. Aguirre said that present security was sufficient. Quintero then asked if “our lobbyists” in Sacramento could find funds for the department, and Nerland said that such funding was possible and that he would pursue the suggestion.

Pacheco asked how many kids were considered “hard to place.” The reply was 1% – 2%. The numbers since last fall were 20 in November, 1 in December, and 5 in January. One January child, who had refused placement, was a repeat from November. Pacheco asked if youth were permitted to refuse placement; the reply was that they are, per state law. Magsig seemed fixated on the small percentage of hard-to-place youth, 30 out of a total of 2800, or about 1%, and their right to refuse placement. Will the number of “challenging” youth grow, he asked. The DSS staff reply was that the number would likely grow, especially if placement is refused, but no other reason or evidence for expectation in growth was cited. Magsig wanted to know how hard-to-place youth come to the attention of DSS. Aguirre and her staff replied that they could be mental-health referrals by parents, they could have been abandoned by parents after being hospitalized, they could be victims of sexual abuse, or they could be runaways. Magsig then revealed that he felt “we” should have “parental rights” and exercise “authority” over the kids, presumably to force them to stay where they are placed. Under California law, children cannot be “locked in any room, building, or facility premises” unless they are in a community treatment facility. Neither Magsig nor the DSS staff clarified these points. Nevertheless, Magsig asserted that we need to communicate to the public how “our hands are tied.” He then noted that he wants staff salaries to be competitive and that social service is a “calling.”

Brandau said that he had observed a lot of good work since the “unfortunate events” of last fall noted above. Were there any other issues? Pacheco interjected with a different framing of the query: “In other words, how can we help you achieve your goals?” Aguirre and staff asked the Board for their support for legislation which will help fund the agency’s facilities and mentioned enlisting the help of State Senator Caballero, who has done legislative work on foster care. Pacheco asserted that “state issues make our job harder” but did not specify how.

Pacheco said that, to mitigate the spread of COVID, anyone in DSS (or other departments) who can telework should. He then asked CAO Nerland to complete by 1 June a compensation study on not only DSS salaries, but also office assistants, janitors, etc. He said that Fresno County employees should not leave their jobs for more highly paid jobs in other counties and noted that currently, all departments were short-staffed. Nerland replied, “Will do,” and suggested that he and staff will make the study a priority and may be able to complete it before the deadline. No vote was necessary for this action.

Quintero praised the foster-care staff and suggested they issue a press release which would frame any delays in opening the new facility a consequence of COVID-related supply-chain issues, so the Board will not be blamed.

Public comments were opened on this item. Heather Evans, a County employee who has appeared numerous times to complain about inadequate County salaries, thanked the Board for their interest in protecting the health of employees. Regarding hard-to-place youth in foster care, she said that the Board must remember that these children are traumatized and some of them have been trafficked. She felt it was critical for these children to exercise their right of choice and the Board should not blame the kids.

Next, Riley Talford, SEIU 521 Fresno County Chapter President and Supervising Juvenile Correctional Officer for Fresno County, expressed his appreciation for the Board’s efforts to raise social-work compensation. He was pleased with the approval of the resolution for supplemental pay. “Keep up the good work,” he said.

Next, Renee Garcia, Deputy Public Guardian for the County for 21 years, approached the podium to say that her salary had “topped out” 15 years ago. A total of just seven people in her department, a division of Behavioral Health, serve the entire County to work on an enormous range of issues, such as probate cases, mental-health reports, legal decisions for decedents, minor guardianships, and the like. She called her group “social-work special forces” and asked that her group be added to the compensation study. “You have just been added to the list,” declared Pacheco.

Brandau remarked without specificity that there were fewer “emotional” comments today than there were previously about this topic, and he thanked staff. Staff thanked the department’s field workers. Pacheco emphasized that “we’re not going to let it go,” and despite delays said that he wanted to do the best we can now, knowing it’s “not perfect, just the best we can do.”

Agenda Item #7 Supervisor reports

Magsig: Just concluded a two-year term on the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

Quintero: Attended a Hmong new-year celebration at the Fresno Fairgrounds, where over 500 people received vaccinations against the COVID virus.

Brandau: Attended Martin Luther King memorial ceremony on Friday at the courthouse with Pacheco. Because his voice was giving him problems earlier in the meeting, he said he now wanted to “try again” and speak about a matter on the agenda. “I thought we were lucky, but here we go,” quipped Pacheco. He began to clarify a remark he and Mendes had made referring to local law enforcement as a “machine.” “They are working their asses off to put people behind bars,” said he, and he wanted County law-enforcement employees to know that he supports “the machine” of law enforcement. As for his “no” vote for supplemental payments for County workers, he attempted to clarify: he wants everyone to know that rather than spend taxpayer money, he prefers the payments to be built into salaries. For the government to give taxpayer money to government workers is wrong, he asserted. However, he did not explain why he favored a similar plan for employees of the sheriff’s office, nor did he clarify if he preferred a permanent salary increase or simply an incorporating of a one-time lump sum into a regular paycheck. In any case, County salaries do come from taxes, so the argument was puzzling.

Mendes: Given the floor, he continued the metaphorical theme of law enforcement as a “machine,” and refining it a bit, likened it more to a “fine watch” whose gears must match and run as a unit. He also mentioned that as Chair of the Urban County Caucus of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), he managed to get approval of a water policy, though he did not elaborate on its details. “I got the Bay Area supervisors to agree,” he boasted.

Pacheco: Praised correctional officers and said they were also part of the law-enforcement “machine,” or fine timepiece.

Agenda Item #8 Board appointments. Magsig made one, Quinero two, Mendes two, and Pacheco two, to various positions. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #9 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. None.

Agenda Items #10-12.1 Closed session. Counsel Cederborg noted that there would be no reporting from closed session and that following it the meeting would be adjourned. The public portion of the meeting was over at 10:43AM.

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