FRESNO COUNTY – There was a changing of the guard at the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (Board) meeting as outgoing chairman Sal Quintero handed the Board chairmanship for 2024 to former vice chairman Nathan Magsig.
Supervisor Buddy Mendes was named as the 2024 vice chairman. The Board also heard from the County Clerk and Registrar of Voters regarding the special primary election that will take place on March 19 and heard from the director of the Internal Services Department (ISD) regarding a budget appropriation of $2 million to cover repairs caused by copper pipe thieves at the Fresno County University Medical Center (UMC).
As part of the ceremony to announce the new chairmanship, Quintero asked the Board members to stand and move one place to their right, after which the Board clerk moved the nameplates to reflect the new seating arrangement.
New Chairman Magsig presented Quintero with a gavel and a plaque. He thanked Quintero for guiding the county in 2023. He also presented Quintero with a photograph from the Fresno County Historical Society.
“I want to thank my colleagues and my staff for all your help, patience, and support,” said Quintero. “A lot of challenges will be coming up. I am grateful to have a good group of colleagues to work with.”
SPECIAL VACANCY ELECTION
On Dec. 19, former House speaker Kevin McCarthy announced he was resigning from Congress. He said his resignation was effective Dec. 31. McCarthy’s abrupt departure presents logistical dilemmas for local election officials who must mount a special election or elections to fill the vacancy.
Fresno County Clerk and Registrar of Voters James A. Kus told the Board that, according to California’s Election Code, McCarthy’s vacant seat must be filled by a special election. On Jan. 8, Gov. Newsom announced there would be a special vacancy election – a Special Primary Election – on March 19 to fill McCarthy’s vacancy.
According to Kus, if a candidate in the special election receives a majority of votes, that individual will take office as early as the end of March and complete McCarthy’s term which expires on Dec. 31.
If there is no majority winner, the top two vote getters from the Special Primary will face off in a Special General Election held on May 21. The winner of that contest will then complete McCarthy’s term. Kus said his office expects to certify results of the latter election by June 5. He added that Congress has the authority to swear in a winner earlier than June if it decides.
“They do not need to wait for us to certify the results,” Kus said.
Kus said there will be a period when his office will be working both primary elections simultaneously.
“But we will bring in an experienced supervisor for the special primary election to oversee the 1% manual tally and canvas, letting our regular staff focus on the Presidential Primary post-election process,” Kus said.
Kus acknowledged that holding two primary elections so closely together will confuse some voters. He said one quarter of active Fresno County voters will be affected by the elections.
According to Kus, to mitigate confusion, the special primary election ballot will be significantly different from the Presidential Primary ballot.
“They will be roughly half the size and a unique color,” said Kus. “We will use special envelopes for the delivery and return of the special primary ballots.” He added his department will highlight instructions for the special ballots to voters in mailings and public service announcements that will begin in February.
$2 MILLION FOR UMC REPAIRS
The Board was asked to adopt a resolution acknowledging that emergency repairs at the old UMC (University Medical Center) warranted a suspension of the usual bidding process and to authorize the director of the Internal Services Department to move ahead with executing contracts with vendors to facilitate repairs. The resolution called for a $2 million increase in the fiscal year 2023-2024 appropriations and estimated revenues for ISD.
Last October, the county sold UMC for $6 million to developer Sevak Khatchadourian. The 30-acre UMC campus includes 20 buildings that total 620,000 square feet. It also includes the former UMC hospital that closed in 2007.
According to Tony Botti, the public information officer for the Fresno County Sheriff Coroner’s Office, on Dec. 13, 2023, the Fresno County Sheriff responded to a trespassing report at a campus building located at 445 S. Cedar Avenue. Officers found broken pipes and water in the basement. Botti added that trespassing calls at UMC were quite common.
Quintero asked ISD Director Robert Bash why the county is responsible for the repairs if the site was sold. According to Bash, the transaction is about halfway complete; Khatchadourian is completing his due diligence.
Quintero then shifted his questions to security or the lack thereof at the site. He mentioned thefts at the site that occurred before last December’s incident.
“We had theft last year and at that time we were going to provide more security so we wouldn’t have this. So, what happened?,” he asked.
In his response, Bash said some of the funds the board is providing through the resolution will provide even more security.
“I only have so many security officers and we’re doing increased patrols but that building is a sieve,” Bash said. “Very hard to keep people out of that building.”
For his own response, Quintero said, “When we had that last incident, I made a comment that there is an individual in the sheriff’s department who knows how those individuals are getting into that building. I forwarded the name and no one contacted him.”
However, Bash noted there are a lot of ways to get into that building. Bash then went on to explain that insurance should reimburse the county for the majority of repairs. He also said that $2 million was a high placeholder amount. He suspects the costs for cleanup and mitigation will be less than $1 million.
The Board approved the resolution 4-1, with Quintero voting against the measure.
In other meeting business, the Board assigned members their appointments to various boards, commissions, or committees on which they will serve in 2024. The Board also announced a report of public official appointments. According to the report, Quintero was appointed to the Fresno Council of Governments and the Fresno County Rural Transit Authority.
Supervisor Steve Brandau was appointed to the Fresno County Transportation Agency.
Mendes was appointed to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), the Fresno County Transportation Agency, the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, and the Selma-Kingsburg-Fowler County Sanitation District.
Magsig was appointed to LAFCo, the Retirement Board, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and the Selma-Kingsburg-Fowler County Sanitation District.