Fresno supervisors fight over First 5

FRESNO, California

Supervisor Debbie Poochigian is leading the fight. "I object to taking money from children's programs for the entire county and putting into bricks and mortar."

Poochigian believes money for a new building should be spent on children's programs throughout the county. For the past 15 years First 5 of Fresno County has spent more than $100 million in tobacco tax money to do just that. But with cigarette revenue dropping they've decided to invest in a new building instead of space they are leasing, to provide those programs.

Supervisor Andreas Borgeas noted First 5 is an independent entity, and questioned why Poochigian won't let it go.

At Tuesdays Board of Supervisors meeting he said: "My concern is we are spending too much time on an issue with so many other issues."

Poochigian responded: "It's our fiduciary responsibility to do that, if you do not think that's important…"

To that, Borgeas said: "Our watchdog oversight is limited we have no jurisdiction over this body and that's where I think you are not coming to grips with it."

But Poochigian, and fellow supervisors Phil Larson and Judy Case are pushing to get a grip on First 5 by taking it over.

Case said: "I'm happy to have that discussion but it does require changing the bylaws reconfiguring their board and bringing them back into the county fold and I think that would be beneficial to this county and the children of this county."

When the statewide First 5 program was started, counties had the option of taking control, but Fresno County opted to let it be independent, but with commission members appointed by the Board of Supervisors. One of the First 5 commissioners is Supervisor Henry Perea. He supports the new building, and Supervisor Poochigian asked him if he would resign the First 5 post.

He angrily responded: "I'm not going to give you the easy out if you want to replace me, then replace me."

If he isn't replaced the majority of the board members, Poochigian, Case and Larson made it clear Perea will be expected to carry out their wishes, and vote against plans for a new building. They feel they have that authority because of a county regulation that requires that a Supervisor who serves on another county board or commission to reflect the wishes of the Board majority. That doesn't mean it will happen, because other members of the First 5 Commission cannot be forced to vote as the Board of Supervisors dictates.

The board will take a vote on November fifth to issue that order, to Perea, and to finalize their rejection of the building, and to also begin studying the prospects of taking over First 5.

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