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Lighthouse for Children image via durham-construction.com.

published on July 15, 2019 - 2:09 PM
Written by Donald A. Promnitz

First 5 Fresno County is the subject of a Fresno County Grand Jury report on the makeup of its commission and use of funds to construct a Downtown Fresno building.

Prompted by a citizen complaint, the Grand Jury concluded that First 5 had failed to comply with California statute in the makeup of its commission, though its use of funding to build the Lighthouse for Children was appropriate.

First 5 of California was established in 1998 with the passage of Proposition 10 to promote health and education in children age 5 and under. The county offices for the organization are funded through taxes on tobacco products sold in the state.

Commission shortcomings

After multiple interviews with “people who have knowledge regarding the issues,” the Grand Jury determined in its findings that not all available positions were filled by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and that not all of the current commissioners met the qualification criteria set out by Proposition 10.

In 2014, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted to change an ordinance to decrease the number of First 5 commissioners from nine to seven. But since that time, only five commissioners have served.

The Grand Jury determined that a conflict of interest ordinance enacted by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is at odds with Proposition 10, excluding from the commission people the proposition expressly states are qualified.

However, the findings of the Grand Jury were not all negative.

Good fiscal management

Starting in January 2012, First 5 Fresno County researched and determined that there was a need for child care downtown for Fresno County employees, and was granted county funding to open and run a child care center at the Fresno County Plaza. The organization sought the purchase of property from the city via unspent tobacco funds, but as was unable to take advantage of a New Market Tax Credit to purchase and build the structure.

As a response, they established Lighthouse as non-profit to take ownership and management of a new building.

The Grand Jury praised their handling of the situation from both an ethical and financial standpoint.

“First 5 Fresno appropriately and wisely used their NMTC to facilitate the purchase of property and building of a facility in downtown Fresno to be used for daycare, education and medical care of children age 5 and under,” the report reads. “First 5 Fresno is to be commended for being good stewards of their funds.”

According to Emilia Reyes, executive director of First 5 Fresno County, the report affirms the decision to construct the Lighthouse for Children. 

“As stewards of public funds, our Commission and staff are committed to invest in our early childhood system of care so that families have access to the community-based supports they need,” Reyes said. “The Lighthouse for Children stands as proof of this commitment and highlights the importance of supporting the first five years of life so that our children are ready for school and life.”

Among their recommendations, the Grand Jury suggested the filling of all available commission seats by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors by New Year’s Eve, and that the Board modify its conflict of interest ordinance. Reyes, however, said she has full confidence in the commission. 

“With regard to the make-up of our commission, I believe the current First 5 commissioners are deeply committed to the wellbeing of our county’s youngest children,” she said. “And we’ll stand by the County Board of Supervisors’ direction.”


Related story: First 5 unveils Child-Friendly Business Awards


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