Esmeralda Soria is in her first term on the Fresno council and discusses the elaborate gift-giving protocol for the outgoing council president with me. Plus, we analyze one difficult meeting involving the politics of religion.
Q: Each year, a different council member becomes the president. At the end of their term in January, they apparently get to pick out a parting gift for themselves. Can you tell us what the council is getting current president Clint Olivier?
A: We’re still working on that. I think people were very impressed by the last gift–the sign that says your name and then “President” at the bottom, which is what our former president, [Paul] Caprioglio, received.
Q: In 2015, Council Member Steve Brandau got a photoshopped picture of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz smoking a cigarette with tattoos all over his body. When you saw that, did you think, “huh, that seems like a perfectly wholesome and normal thing to give someone?”
A: Well, I don’t think that they were trying to be normal. I think they were trying to add a little humor to the parting gift! I think that was the intent.
Q: Let’s go back to May of this year. Council Member Garry Bredefeld looks at the wall behind you in the council chamber where it says “City of Fresno.” He says to himself, “this is missing something.” How did you first learn what he wanted to do?
A: It was something that Councilwoman–I forget her name–out of Bakersfield…[she] had sent an e-mail. Not just to him, to everyone. He was the only one that it caught his attention and thought it was a great idea to bring to Fresno. That’s how I first learned he was interested.
Q: What you’re referring to is putting in big letters behind you, “In God We Trust” under the name of the city. You had over 40 commenters show up on both sides–cheering and yelling, calling this “needlessly divisive.” In the end, you and the entire council voted in favor of this. Did you have any unease over how the process went?
A: At the beginning, there was. I even expressed that to my council colleague. I felt that it wasn’t something the city needed to debate. It became a very divisive issue. But for me, I didn’t see anything wrong with putting our country’s motto on the dais. It wasn’t about religion. Every council meeting, we have an invocation. We invite people from all walks of life to do the invocation because we value diversity.
Q: I’ve got to say, I’ve watched a lot of your council meetings. It’s hard to take away a message that all gods are welcome given how frequently people refer to Jesus Christ in the invocation. Do you see how the actual proceedings would suggest that the council is not totally neutral?
A: I can see that. I can tell you–at least when I have the opportunity–I have the Sikh community come in here, someone from the Muslim community come, and it’s not about Jesus. It’s not a complete representation, but I can see your point.
Q: Did any of the extreme arguments you heard in that May meeting change your initial opinion?
A: I thought to some degree it was a waste of valuable time. The debate didn’t have to be that extensive.
Follow Councilmember Esmeralda Soria on Twitter: @Esmeralda_Soria