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An anonymous person filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission alleging Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and a number of his staffers violated the Political Reform Act’s campaign disclosure, economic interests disclosure, and behested payment disclosure provisions by failing to disclose donations to his One Fresno Foundation.
Dyer, in an interview with The Bee, flatly denied the allegations, saying they have “absolutely no merit.”
The complaint centers around behested payments, which are donations solicited by public officials that are not campaign donations or gifts. The FPPC requires officials to report behested payments within 30 days to provide transparency.
The FPPC, the state’s political finance watchdog tasked with enforcing the Political Reform Act, notified Dyer and others named in the complaint in a letter dated Jan. 6.
The complaint names Dyer and a number of his staffers who also sit on the One Fresno Foundation board, including Deputy Mayor Mathew Grundy, Chief of Staff Tim Orman, Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Montelongo and Assistant Communications Director Fabiola Ramirez.
The complaint also names City Manager Thomas Esqueda, though he doesn’t sit on the foundation board. Additionally, the complaint names Monica Diaz, a foundation board member who isn’t a city employee.
The complaint alleges Dyer used the foundation to solicit donations from developers Darius Assemi, Cliff Tutelian and Leland Parnagian beyond the maximum $4,800 contributions allowed for campaigns.
The complaint also alleges Dyer and his senior city staff requested and received contributions to the foundation from Caglia Environment, Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU), Valley Children’s Hospital, Anthem Blue Cross and local developers, but failed to disclose the donations as required by the FPPC.
In a Sept. 30 Fresno City Council agenda item, Dyer and Esqueda requested the council accept a $50,000 donation from the foundation. The complaint alleges this was an attempt by Dyer and City Manager Thomas Esqueda to “wash” foundation money received from donors who violated conflict of interest rules.
Dyer also continues to use his “One Fresno” campaign slogan on city materials on the taxpayer dime, the complaint alleges.
In a phone interview with The Bee, Dyer said he reviewed the complaint, and the city attorney’s office sent a response to the FPPC.
Beyond saying the complaint has no merit, Dyer also said the information in the complaint is inaccurate.
For example, Dyer provided to The Bee reporting forms for foundation donations received that totaled $5,000 or above, as required by the FPPC. The forms included donations from EECU, Valley Children’s Hospital, Anthem Blue Cross, CalViva Health and more.
Most of the donations the foundation received were not solicited by him, Dyer said.
Dyer said he neither asked for nor received donations for the foundation from any of the developers named in the complaint. He did receive campaign donations from a number of developers, but those were separate from the foundation and reported properly, he said.
As for the $50,000 foundation donation to the city, the allegation is inaccurate, Dyer said.
That amount of city money was used for Camp Fresno personnel, maintenance, programming and more, he said. That occurred before the foundation was up and running, he said, and the intent always was to reimburse the city from foundation money for half of the cost, or $25,000.
However, when he and Esqueda tried to place a reimbursement item on the Sept. 30 city council agenda, Councilmember Miguel Arias decided not to hear the item, and the reimbursement never occurred, he said.
Dyer also said that he consulted with the city attorney about using his “One Fresno” slogan and logo, and the city attorney’s opinion was that it was OK for incidental use.
Dyer defended the foundation, its board and his staffers, calling the anonymous complaint “concerning.”
“No good deed goes unpunished,” he said. “We create a foundation to relieve the city of certain financial funding burdens. …We’re trying to do the right thing for the people of Fresno, only to be criticized and have an anonymous complaint filed on us that would create some suspicion that this organization is anything but completely legitimate.”
One Fresno Foundation
Dyer launched the One Fresno Foundation last year to raise money to provide opportunities for young people from underserved neighborhoods. So far, he’s used the money to send hundreds of children to Camp Fresno and thousands to visit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
The nonprofit also has raised money for the mayor’s Beautify Fresno program.
The nonprofit previously existed under the name “Fresno First Steps Home” when Ashley Swearengin was mayor. Dyer and his team used the existing foundation and renamed it to expedite the process of starting the foundation operations. Two First Steps board members were retained under the new One Fresno name, he said.
In 2021, the One Fresno Foundation raised $207,000, Dyer said. The behested payments he provided to The Bee account for $144,000. In addition, Dyer and his wife, Diane, donated an additional $25,000 to the foundation, which Dyer was informed he did not need to report. The rest of the foundation money was raised by donations under $5,000, he said.
So far, the Internal Revenue Service form for nonprofits, a Form 990, has not been filed for the foundation for 2021. It’s not due until May.