Fresno’s training program seeks to improve City Council efficiency

On October 21, 2010, the City of Fresno adopted the Council Orientation Act. The Act provides city council members an overview of Fresno’s government before they assume office. Councilmember Lee Brand, a representative of the 6th District, authored the legislation after experiencing Fresno’s current informal orientation process following his election to the council in 2008.

Traditionally, newly elected council members learned the ways of municipal government through experience after being inaugurated in January. The downside to this method of training is its gradual nature—taking as long as a whole year to fully instruct new officials. One benefit of the Act is that it would maximize the term efficiency of council members.

According to Brand, the City of Fresno can no longer afford to wait this long for a fully functioning council. Fresno’s government functions as a strong-mayor government, meaning that Mayor Ashley Swearengin acts as the city’s executive branch, while the City Council acts as the city’s legislature. In order for the seven council members to deliver the most comprehensive representation to their district constituents, the legislative body must meet under ideal conditions—each member prepared with at least a general knowledge of city government. While the responsibility and expectations of council members has only grown in recent years, the qualifications for running for office remain low. In order to run for council, candidates are only expected to be registered voters 30 days prior to filing nomination papers.

The training is compromised of meetings with department heads, workshops, visits to city facilities, and meetings with city agencies. The workshops seek to provide officials with basic knowledge of budget and finance, land use planning, labor relations, and legislative processes.

Since the California State Assembly passed Bill 1234 in 2005, local government officials are required to receive basic ethics training. Fresno’s Council Orientation Act plans to supplement AB 1234 with more in-depth and city-specified training.

As a year has passed since the Act’s adoption, Fresno City is working on a formal report analyzing the Act’s effectiveness. The review will reflect on the implementation of the Act and any proposed amendments. Analysis of this review will provide other city governments with evidence as to whether or not the Act was beneficial to newly elected members and their functioning within the city council.

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