By Mark Gutglueck
Risking the retirement or departure of the city’s acting police chief, the San Bernardino City Council voted 4-to-2 Wednesday night not to confer on him and the interim assistant police chief 9 percent pay raises as had been proposed by City Manager Teri Ledoux.
The vote marked what some on the council said was a crucial shift in the cash-strapped county seat’s gravitation away from untenable financial commitments to the police department that were a major factor in the city’s financial foundering which resulted in San Bernardino’s August 2012 Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection filing.
The city, after stiffing 209 of its creditors, service providers, vendors and bondholders for some $350 million and building up reserves of close to $35 million over a nearly five year period, emerged from bankruptcy in June 2017. Along the way it had closed out its 137-year old municipal fire department in 2015 and assented to annexing the entirety of the 61.95 square miles within its city limits into an assessment district through which its residents pay an annual parcel tax of $154 to defray the cost of the county fire department providing the city with fire protection and emergency medical service. The following year, city officials orchestrated a vote to dispense with its original city charter put into effect in 1905 in favor of a revamped city government arrangement that curtailed the mayor’s administrative and managerial authority, strengthened the city manager and dispensed with the city’s traditional elected city clerk and city attorney positions. Doing away with the old charter also did away with its Charter Section 186, which had been put into place by a three-vote margin, 5,264 votes to 5,261, in February 1939. Charter Section 186 took away from the city council its purview over the pay to be provided to police officers, instead guaranteeing that they would be paid an average of the pay grade of police in ten other California cities of roughly the same population as San Bernardino.
San Bernardino, which at one point was among the most financially dynamic of the region’s municipalities, suffered a series of setbacks toward the close of the 20th Century, most pointedly the Department of Defense’s shuttering of Norton Air Force Base in 1994. By 2012, the city had $80 million in unfunded liabilities and a $49 million annual operating deficit, precipitating its bankruptcy.
Prior to the city’s bankruptcy filing, its then-mayor, Patrick Morris, along with his supporters on the city council, who included Tobin Brinker and Fred Shorett, had sought to convince the public that the city’s commitment to compete with wealthier municipalities in the provision of salaries to its employees, in particular the public safety employees covered under Charter Section 186, was unsustainable. They advocated holding the line on employee salaries by, essentially, freezing pay levels.
In the election cycle prior to the city’s bankruptcy filing, the election of 2011, the city’s public safety employee unions targeted Brinker for removal, by so doing attempting to send a message to the city’s political leadership that maintaining comfortable remuneration levels for city employees, in particular police officers and firefighters, should be considered sacrosanct. In Brinker’s stead they supported John Valdivia, who in his public utterances equated providing top tier salaries to policeman and firefighters with public safety. Valdivia utilized the hefty political contributions provided to him by the police and fire union to carry out an energetic campaign and thereby vanquished Brinker at the polls.
Seven years later, after the city’s bankruptcy and exit therefrom, Carey Davis’s succession of Morris as mayor and the charter revision, Valdivia in 2018 vied against and defeated Davis in the race for San Bernardino mayor. During Davis’s tenure, Jarrod Burguan had acceded to the position of police chief, succeeding Robert Handy. Completely unforeseen events would elevate Burguan to virtual demigod status within the American law enforcement community. On the morning of December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook, a restaurant inspector employed with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, approached and then went into an auditorium at the Inland Regional Center in south San Bernardino where both a training session and a pre-Christmas banquet for Public Health Department employees was being held. Wearing ski masks, armed with semi-automatic pistols and rifles and clad in bulletproof vests holding magazines and ammunition, Farook and Malik killed two people before entering the building and thereafter unleashed a fusillade of more than 100 rounds before fleeing. Inside the structure they killed another 12 and wounded 22 of the 86 people present, virtually all of whom had been Farook’s co-workers in the Department of Public Health. Ultimately, some four hours after the initial attack and Farook and Malik had returned to their residence in Redlands and were coming back into San Bernardino, San Bernardino Police officers spotted the couple driving a vehicle rented by Farook four days before the attack, and which the department had identified. Officers gave pursuit and confronted them, at which juncture the couple made a futile last stand in a shootout on San Bernardino Avenue just east of Sheddon Drive. As more police units arrived to converge on the scene, 23 officers firing a combined total of at least 440 rounds mortally wounded the murderous pair, avenging the 14 earlier deaths.
Burguan was widely credited with his calm, methodical, vigilant, thorough and ultimately successful response and the coordination of his department’s resources throughout the ordeal. Thereafter, he was in great demand by other departments all over the country for input on preparation for similar emergencies. The highly articulate Burguan found himself torn between what he felt was a legitimate need to contribute to readiness and preparation among agencies throughout the law enforcement industry nationally and his duties in running his own department that was struggling under challenging circumstances that were unrelated to the December 2, 2015 attack. Those included sustaining the economies being imposed on the department as the city was making its exit from bankruptcy and the unenviable position of overseeing law enforcement in a city ranked on one survey as the 13th most dangerous city in the United States, with a murder rate that was thrice the national average.
Despite the opportunities that were presented to him to take on an even more lucrative police chief’s assignment elsewhere, Burguan remained in San Bernardino, even as he was being criticized for his attention sometimes being diffused by requests for his input with regard to response readiness in other jurisdictions.
In February of this year, Burguan underwent knee surgery. At his recommendation, Assistant Police Chief Eric McBride was tapped to fill in as acting police chief in his absence. It was anticipated that Burguan’s recovery would be complete by May. At that point, however, he had not returned, accompanied by conflicting reports as to why he did not reassume the helm at the police department. One report, based on statements emanating from Burguan directly, was that he was looking forward, indeed was anxious, to return, but that the city at some level or another, either within the city manager’s office or the risk management division, was blocking him from doing so over what was perceived to be a problem with his inability to meet the department’s physical agility standards because of his knee. Another report, perhaps of dubious provenance but one which circulated nonetheless, was that Burguan did not want to return.
On August 1, McBride, whose status and pay grade had temporarily been zoomed upward to match that of the police chief, was granted a 3.5 percent salary increase, conferring upon him an annual salary of $255,963.80 and benefits of $51,750, an amount that was on par with what Burguan was receiving. Parenthetically, McBride’s salary hike had triggered an increase in the pay provided to the city’s recently installed city manager, Teri Ledoux, who as the city’s assistant city manager had been brought in as a temporary replacement for City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller when she was put on temporary administrative leave in April. In July, Ledoux was hired as city manager retroactive to June 1, following Travis-Miller’s May 29 firing. Ledoux’s contract required that she receive a salary that was at least five percent higher than any of the department heads she supervised, including the police chief. Thus, when McBride was granted his raise on August 1, Ledoux saw her $259,674 salary before benefits upped to $268,762.
On August 16, Burguan retired. The widespread assumption was that McBride would in short order be named as Burguan’s successor, whereby the qualifier acting would be removed from his police chief title and his status as head of the department would be locked in for a specified contractual term. McBride, in apparent anticipation of his ultimate selection as police chief, signaled he would be willing, for the time being, to continue as the acting police chief at his current pay grade. Unspoken at that time was that upon his graduation to being the city’s actual police chief, some further salary enhancement would follow. With the turn of summer into fall, from discussions between McBride and Ledoux emerged the idea of having Ledoux broach with the city council giving McBride another raise.
The calculation was that the seven-member city council and Mayor Valdivia were in substantial agreement that McBride, while perhaps not indispensable, was nevertheless a valued asset and feature of the police department. As a military veteran who had spent nearly six years in the Marine Corps, McBride began with the San Bernardino Police Department as a patrol officer in 1991, and thereafter had assignments as a member of the special weapons and assault team and as a field training officer. In 2002, he promoted to detective, working in the department’s narcotics division. He advanced to sergeant in 2004, in which rank he worked as a patrol supervisor, as a special weapons and assault team leader, and in internal affairs. He achieved the rank of lieutenant in 2011, overseeing the special events, emergency operations, records and dispatch divisions. He spent a mere five months as captain in 2014, at which point he was appointed assistant chief of police. McBride holds a bachelor of science degree in political science from California Baptist University and a master of science degree in criminal justice from Troy University, augmented by a certificate in emergency management from Auburn University, as well as certification from the FBI National Academy and certification in executive leadership from the Naval Postgraduate School. He also graduated from the Police Officers and Standards Training Command College in its 56th class. As a resident of the City of Hemet, McBride served a short time on that city’s planning commission in 2006, and later that year was elected to the Hemet City Council, subsequently serving a stint as mayor. While he was in his elected capacity with Hemet, McBride was appointed as a voting member of the Riverside Transit Agency as well as a member and later vice-chairman of the California League of Cities Public Safety Policy Committee.
In 2015, the City of El Monte hired McBride as its police chief, but after criticism regarding his participation in what was deemed aggressive anti-illegal immigration policies in Hemet, McBride opted not to take the job in that city in which roughly 69 percent, or 79,754 of its 115,586 population self-identifies as Latino.
From Ledoux’s perspective, advocating for McBride’s desired salary increase carried with it the added advantage that an upward migration in the soon-to-be police chief’s pay would in turn increase her remuneration and enhance her salary upon retirement.
From the perspective of several councilmembers, however, the requested pay increases were troubling. Foremost among their concerns was that the city simply could not afford what was being requested. The city had managed, by the time it emerged from bankruptcy in 2017, to salt away $35 million in reserves, largely because during the previous five years the bankruptcy court had allowed the city to hold its creditors at bay and pay them only a fraction of what the city owed them, in some cases 60 cents on the dollar, and in others 50 cents on the dollar, 40 cents on the dollar, 30 cents on the dollar and 20 cents on the dollar. In the case of those who had successfully sued the city for violations of Constitutional rights or for excessive use of force by the police department, the city was permitted to pay just one cent on the dollar for the first million dollars of damages assessed by any court against the city. Thus, in June 2017, as the city exited bankruptcy, it was starting off fresh, and had been consigned by the federal bankruptcy court to abide by a recovery plan that called for the city living within its means, ending deficit spending and spending no more than the revenue it was bringing in.
Though the city attempted, or made a show of attempting, to live up to the strictures of that recovery plan, almost from the beginning it had failed to do so. Actual income into the city in 2017-2018 failed to match up with the projections city officials had made, and worse, spending exceeded, for a number of reasons, the outlays officials had committed to when the fiscal year began on July 1, 2017. As bad as 2017-18 had been, Fiscal Year 2018-19 was worse. For Fiscal 2018-19, the city council approved an operating budget of $166,357,066, of which $126,247,699 was accounted for in the city’s general fund and $40,109,367 in other funds that included special revenue, enterprise operations, and internal services. Travis-Miller and the city’s then-finance director, Brent Mason, said the city could count upon experiencing a five percent increase in general fund revenues over the previous year, based upon $168,943,334 that was anticipated to flow into the city, allowing the city to net a surplus of $2,586,268, which could be used to fatten the city’s reserves. As the fiscal year progressed, however, both Mason and Travis-Miller could see that the city was not meeting the revenue projections assumed at the outset, and by the time of the transition to spring in March 2019, the council was informed that before Fiscal Year 2018-19 was to expire at midnight on June 30 of this year, not only would the city not realize the projected $2,586,268 surplus, it would actually receive roughly $11.2 million less than the $166,357,066 it was going to spend. Without fanfare, Mason departed and Travis-Miller’s head was on the chopping block shortly thereafter.
Prognostications, based on the best figures available, now indicate that the city, which ran an $11.2 million deficit in just concluded 2018-19, will see that annual deficit jump to $16 million by the end of 2019-20 and $18 million to $19 million by 2020-21. Since June of this year, by which time the $35 million in reserves the city had in 2017 were depleted to roughly $22 million, the city has engaged in another $6.4 million in deficit spending, bringing its reserves down to $15.6 million. The best projection available at present is that by the end of next June, at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2020-21, the city’s reserves will stand at roughly $5.8 million. Perhaps as early as September 2020 but certainly no later than November 2020, if the city’s current revenue and spending trends continue, the city’s reserves will be entirely depleted. There is concern that if the city again seeks bankruptcy protection, the federal bankruptcy court, after taking stock of the city’s inability or unwillingness to live up to the recovery plan it agreed to upon its last bankruptcy exit, will not grant the city’s petition, leaving the city with no other option than disincorporation, ceasing to exist as a municipal entity such that the land within the city limits will return to the administration of the county, leaving Highland free to annex a major portion of the city’s northeast quadrant; Rialto to become heir to the land on the city’s northwest side; Colton to lay claim to the southwest corner of the city; Loma Linda to inherit the middle south end of the city and Redlands to take over the roughly six square miles located at the southeast extreme of San Bernardino’s 61.95 square miles.
Meanwhile, McBride was unrelenting in his insistence that the city would need to make an object demonstration of the degree to which it valued his services and boost his pay by ten percent. His threat, either implied or direct, delivered to the city council through Ledoux, was that he would simply retire, leaving the department in less than certain hands.
It was not lost on some members of the city council, however, that Burguan, who because of the performance of the officers under his command on December 2, 2015 could have virtually written his own ticket as a police chief with literally hundreds of other law enforcement agencies elsewhere, had elected to remain in San Bernardino at a level of pay McBride now appeared to be turning his nose up at.
By the middle of October it had become clear to Ledoux that if she pushed hard with regard to McBride’s demand, which would raise his salary from $255,963.80 to $281,560.18 and thus put herself in line to see her $268,762 salary increased to $295,638.18, the council might not only outright balk at the proposal but would possibly elect to terminate her altogether. Accordingly, she came at the issue from a slightly different angle.
Using something akin to the formula that had been applied to arrive at police department salaries under the now defunct Section 186 of the city’s 1905 Charter, Ledoux arranged for a survey of the salaries provided to the police chief and assistant police chief in ten cities of over 100,000 population that fell within a rubric in some other fashion comparable to San Bernardino: Lancaster, Torrance, Santa Rosa, Thousand Oaks, Glendale, Jurupa Valley, Temecula, Moreno Valley, Ventura and Vallejo.
While none of those cities had a population above that of San Bernardino, in the case of Lancaster, the comparison of San Bernrdino’s police chief and assistant police chief was made to the sheriff and undersheriff of Los Angeles County, with a population of over 10 million; in the cases of Jurupa Valley, Moreno Valley and Temecula, the comparisons were made to the sheriff and undersheriff of Riverside County, which has a population of 2.4 million; and in the case of Thousand Oaks, the comparison was to the sheriff and undersheriff of Ventura County, with a population of over 850,000.
It was thus derived that the average salary of an assistant police chief in the ten survey cities is $254,904 and the average pay of a police chief in the ten survey cities is $279,120.
Thereupon, in her staff report prepared for the city council at Wednesday night’s meeting, Ledoux proposed a boost to acting Assistant Police Chief David Green’s current $234,264 annual salary before benefits to $254,904, an increase of $20,640, and to hike McBride’s current $255,963.80 annual salary to $279,120, an increase of $23,160. In so doing, Ledoux said she would waive the stipulation in her contract that she be granted a raise that would up her current $268,762 annual pay to $293,076.
In a memo to the mayor and city council dated October 31, 2019 bearing her initials, Ledoux stated, “This memorandum of record is to inform you that I am irrevocably waiving my right to a salary increase pursuant to Section 3.1 of my employment agreement dated July 17, 2019 and agreeing to keep my current annual salary of $268,762 throughout the remainder of my agreement term (December 31, 2020). An increase in my salary is not budgeted and, recognizing the city’s financial challenges, I am opting to irrevocably waive any right to an increase.”
While the subject of McBride’s and Green’s raise was listed as item 18 on Wednesday night’s agenda, the council ushered items 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 before it, postponing its consideration till the conclusion of the meeting, taking it up at approximately 11:28 p.m. as the council’s last action of the night.
In addition to the city’s precarious financial situation, militating against McBride’s request for the pay increase was the inclusion of an upward salary adjustment for Green in the proposal.
Green, who has a reputation for aggressiveness and was kicked upstairs into the department’s command echelon after he was named over a period of roughly a decade in a series of lawsuits against the city alleging excessive use of force including a fatal shooting in 2007, was present for the entirety of the meeting. While the acting assistant chief had a direct interest in the outcome of the vote and there was nothing improper, per se, about his presence, he has been on hand for council meetings on a less-than-frequent basis in the past, and some members of the council considered his attendance to be an intimidation tactic.
Green was the member of the department whom then-Mayor Elect John Valdivia had contacted on November 14, 2018 to report that he had been on the premises of what the city has charged is an illicit marijuana dispensary located at 1435 North Waterman Avenue roughly an hour-and-a-half to two hours prior to an unidentified gunman coming into the business and shooting an employee in the leg before making off with $19,600 in cash. Valdivia told Green he had been there to “meet-and-greet” the owner of the building and then go over “business investment and other opportunities” with him. Over the previous nine months, the dispensary at 1435 North Waterman had been the site of three police department raids, out of which two felony charges against the operators had been issued by the district attorney’s office. In his statement to Green, Valdivia insisted that he was in no way involved in the robbery that took place after his departure from the scene. A report on the matter was sent to the district attorney’s office, which has not charged Valdivia with any crime.
Additionally, on October 30, the entire council had received an email from Steve Desrochers, the past president and currently a member-at-large of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association in which he lobbied for the promotion of McBride to the position of full police chief, stating, “Our department has been without a chief of police for entirely too long! The leadership in place at this time is leading our department back to a respectable, ‘pro-active’ agency. They have re-instituted important unit details that are already having a positive impact in our community. Morale at the department has begun to improve. We are making forward progress.”
Elsewhere in the letter, Desrochers recommended against the city undertaking an independent audit of the police department.
“What we have heard about is a scheme to unnecessarily spend $150,000 to commission an outside ‘top-to-bottom audit’ of our agency,” Desrocher’s email stated. “It is our understanding that this audit will focus on structural suggestions that might be implemented within current budgetary constraints. This type of audit would not give you a true picture of our needs as it would be lacking very important information. To the point, ladies and gentlemen, we believe the notion of an audit to be a total waste of time and taxpayer money. It is poor policy to operate an agency of our size in a community with our level of crime without a chief of police, and it’s dangerous for the community and increases liability to the city. The San Bernardino Police Officers Association urges each of you to stop considering this ridiculous spending of taxpayer funds that our community can better use. The position of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association has not changed and we are asking you to stand with us to rectify this problem. We know what this department needs and can assure you that Eric McBride possesses the leadership and experience to continue making the changes that must be made.”
Based on an analysis of linguistic patterns and word usage in the letter, some of the members of the council came to the conclusion, correctly or incorrectly, that the letter had actually been written by Green, or if not written by him, dictated by him to Desrochers.
Prior to taking up the item relating to the salary increases for Green and McBride, the council did reject an item to commission the audit referenced in Desrochers’ letter, one that was to be carried out, if it had been approved, by the firm of Hillard and Heintze at a cost of $145,000.
Councilman Ted Sanchez emerged as the primary supporter on the council for giving McBride and Green the raises they were seeking. He referenced five year-term memorandums of understanding with the San Bernardino Police Officers Association and the Police Officers Management Association which are now in their final year of applicability, suggesting that the city’s two top police officials deserved more than what was being provided to the officers they oversaw.
“We made a commitment to the people who are protecting us and risking their lives,” Sanchez said. “We made a commitment to them to pay out these raises. Now that it’s inconvenient for us, to not pay out these raises will really put the city in a dark place, the fact that we will be willing to shortcut the people who are tasked with our safety, to cut them after we made a good faith agreement with them. I did not personally make this promise but my predecessors did, and they did it as representatives of this city. Now that I am a representative of this city, I inherit those promises, and I intend to fulfill all of those promises made to those people who are entrusted with our safety.”
Councilmen Jim Mulvihill and Fred Shorett asserted that the city’s deteriorating financial situation left it incapable of spending the kind of money called for in the pay increase proposal.
“It’s time for fiscal discipline,” Mulvihill said. “The memorandum of understanding doesn’t include the police chief. All we are doing is saying. ‘Let’s keep on doing what we were doing in the past.’ We’re not the same city we were five years ago Actually, five years ago we were doing a little bit better than we are now. This year we cut down seven percent across the board. I don’t know that our revenues are increasing at all. We haven’t gotten any kind of indication that our revenues are up this year. We’re drawing down our reserves. My position is fiscal discipline.”
Shorett said that fiscal reality dictated a vote against providing McBride and Green with the raises. He asserted the city is already devoting too much of its budget toward the police department, that too much of the money that is being spent on the department is going toward police department brass rather than increasing the numbers of available officers for patrol and basic enforcement, and that the money being spent should be refocused toward beefing up basic police functions rather than on administration and management.
“I’d like to ask the chief and the assistant chief if they’re willing to do what our city manager did and take these positions, voluntarily not accepting the raise?” Shorett questioned, rhetorically. “That would certainly be something that would bode well with me.”
He continued, “We eliminated 17 street positions, patrol positions. I’ve said it: I believe we are top heavy [in the police department]. The more black and whites you have on the street, the more police presence you have in our community, the more people are going to see that we’re serious about crime and maybe take a second look at committing a crime. In no way do I want to disparage our police department, our chief, the people that work very diligently, very hard every day protecting us, but no one has challenged me when I’ve said … based on $100 million for our operating budget, we’ve got 80 percent going to the police department, which is unheard of. I just think we are not being fiscally prudent at all. I cannot support this.”
Shorett said the memorandum of understanding did not require that the police chief receive the 9 percent and the assistant police chief get the 8.8 percent raises being proposed. “Damn the memorandum of understanding,” Shorett said. “The reality of it is we are spending our funds faster than we are making them. Revenues are flat at best or negative.”
Sanchez made a motion to grant the raises as proposed by Ledoux, which was seconded by Councilman Henry Nickel. The motion failed, 4-to-2, with Shorett, Mulvihill, Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra and Councilman Juan Figueroa in opposition and Sanchez and Nickel in support.