Fresno's garbage battle moves to the classroom

April 25, 2013 12:34:01 AM PDT
Imagine going to class and hearing that it would be good for the city if your dad lost his job or took a cut in pay. That was the message 17-year-old Steven Salazar heard in his government class at Hoover High School.

He told Action News, "I felt pretty much slapped in the face."

Steven felt that way because his dad is a city garbage collector. A speaker at his class, Bryan McPartlan works for the "Yes on Measure G" campaign. If it passes Fresno's residential garbage collection service will be turned over to a private company. City garbage collectors, like Steven's father, will only be guaranteed employment with the private company one year, at reduced pay and benefits.

Steven told us McPartlan told the class the "No on Measure G" folks, those opposing giving the garbage service to a private company, the "No on Measure G" campaign was not telling the truth about privatization.

"He said they were lying and mixing up the words," said Steven.

The literature McPartlan gave the students said privatization would be good for Fresno and help the budget with money from the private company. The pitch was topped off with a promise that anybody who worked on the campaign would get a letter of recommendation from Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

"So the guy he basically told us that we can go intern for him and he was telling us all this stuff, Ashley Swearengin's going to write us a letter of recommendation for college, or school or whatever. He was basically bribing us with the letter of recommendation from Ashley Swearengin."

McPartlan refused to comment, and in fact our camera was not allowed inside the Yes on G campaign office. But Mayor Swearengin had no trouble talking about it. She told Action News, "Campaigns are allowed to do whatever kind of outreach they want to do to get people into their campaigns."

We asked the Mayor, "Do you think it's okay going into a classroom and saying you will get a letter from the Mayor if you work for us?"

She replied, "Well, it's all subject to the schools approval, so if the schools are okay with having folks come in and do outreach for campaign workers then obviously we follow their rules."

A Fresno Unified School District spokesperson told Action News the classroom visit was not inappropriate. But Former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim, who's working on the No on G campaign, said the students should have heard arguments from both the yes and the no campaigns.

Doug Vagim explained, "I think if you are using a civics class to present this information you ought to present both sides."

Vagim's also upset his side was portrayed as liars to an impressionable group of young people, and thinks using a recommendation letter from the Mayor as bait, is inappropriate.

"My other concern is they are using the Mayor's office as an inducement to these young people, to get out and support their side, with confirmations they will give you support letters and that kind of stuff," said Vagim. "What's next. Free bus tokens. Free passes to city events?"

Vagim says the "No on Measure G" campaign is focusing its efforts on those who will be old enough to vote in the June election.


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