Fresno mayor must reboot as two top staffers leave. Why the departures are a big deal

·3 min read

When the departures of the two top staff members in Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer’s office occur within a week of each other, that’s big news.

And while he also announced able replacements, to have such major change so fast means a major reset for the mayor, who is barely into his second year in office.

Fresno City Hall was abuzz Tuesday afternoon with the breaking news that City Manager Tommy Esqueda had resigned.

That development occurred just hours after Bee staff writer Brianna Calix reported that Esqueda had a recent blow-up in a closed session meeting with the City Council. Esqueda reportedly became upset during a discussion about the difficult contract negotiations with the Fresno Police Officers Association. He yelled, cursed, walked out of the meeting and then left City Hall.

That occurred on Jan. 13. Esqueda did not return again to his office.

Esqueda was Mayor Jerry Dyer’s choice as city manager when Dyer took office a year ago. Previously, Esqueda held a vice president post for water and sustainability at Fresno State, and before that was Fresno’s public works director.

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Esqueda told Dyer in a letter letter dated Sunday that he and his wife want to move to South Carolina to be closer to their children and grandchildren. His last day is Tuesday.

Before this turn, Dyer announced last Thursday that his chief of staff, Tim Orman, will leave on Monday. Orman plans to return to consulting.

The resignations mark head-spinning change for the top jobs in the mayor’s administration.

The city manager acts as the top staffer over all departments except the city attorney and city clerk. The manager’s job is to assure smooth operations of the city at all times.

The chief of staff manages the daily affairs of the mayor, much like the chief of staff to a president.

Both are critical advisers to the mayor on policies and initiatives the city undertakes.

Capable replacements

Dyer is fortunate to have a City Hall veteran ready to take over as city manager: Georgeanne White.

White has worked under Esqueda as assistant city manager, and was chief of staff for two previous mayors, Alan Autry and Ashley Swearengin. She has two decades of experience at City Hall.

Dyer also named Kelli Furtado to replace Orman. She was deputy chief of staff for Swearengin, then assistant director of planning and development under Mayor Lee Brand. She has most recently worked for the Fresno Housing Authority.

Both are respected as capable administrators, and Dyer is fortunate to have them ready and willing to step up.

Even so, this represents a major reset for Dyer’s administration. It comes as the COVID pandemic continues to be a major challenge, as are the cost of housing and homelessness in the city. Growing Fresno’s economy and diversifying it beyond agriculture is a never-ending task.

Dyer will likely say the transition will be seamless and his agenda remains in place. But White and Furtado will need some time to get fully into place, and will bring different perspectives and sensibilities to their jobs.

A year ago Dyer would not have seen needing to replace his top executives. Now it’s up to him to make it work. The success of his mayoral office is at stake.

Kelli Furtado will take the post of Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer’s chief of staff.
Kelli Furtado will take the post of Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer’s chief of staff.
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