Union Ties Are His Strength, Henry Says

Bret Henry, the  current president of the San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters, is one of seven candidates vying to become the next First District Supervisor.
Henry is casting himself as a reform candidate, maintaining “I want to get in there and work with people to change the stigma of the county.  Corruption is out of control. We have good people fighting it, but there is no way of just changing it overnight.  I am basically fed up with the false stories and lies and the twisting of the truth. I want to work with the good, honorable business people of the county for a change.”
In addition, Henry said, “I am a public safety advocate. Public safety has been neglected for too long. Right now, everyone is blaming nurses, cops, firefighters and teachers for all the problems going on. But with all of the billions and billions in subsidies and bailouts, those groups have been served up as being part of the problem, and they are seen as getting too much in salary and pensions. That is far from the truth and what is needed is someone with my skill set who can get in there and redress those issues.”
Henry said it is the fat cats in government – the top level administrators – who are exploiting not only the taxpayers but the rank-and-file governmental employees. The public has unfairly blurred the distinction between the bad guys and the good guys, he said, and the line workers deserve their pay and benefits and the sycophants at the top of the totem pole do not. He said pension reform needed to be calibrated accordingly.
“The whole issue is incredibly complex but at the end of the day there is a problem with the pension system structure. The benefits do not have to be taken away but they do need to be funded correctly. The senior management is the problem. We have a recently retired division chief who was making  $136,000 in salary his last year on the job, yet takes home $211,000 as a pension. That is wrong. It is the big guys who are making more than they should.”
In making his point about the issue, Henry reflexively referenced the firefighters he represents as a union president in making his point. “In reforming the pension system,  we should not hurt the  guy who shows up at the front door when you have a heart attack or a fire. We should not do away with pensions. If you have a good car with a flat tire, you don’t throw the car away. You fix the flat tire. The flat tire in the pension system is the too-generous pensions received by senior management.  The little guy gets blamed for the problems.”
Henry dismissed suggestions that as a union official and public labor advocate he was in some fashion out of step with the predominate Republican population of the First District.
“Ronald Reagan himself was a labor leader,” Henry said. “Ronald Reagan said we often focus on the problems of labor organizations. However, we are a representative form of government and there is a correlation between the decrease of labor unions and the growing gap between the rich and poor.  So said Ronald Reagan. There are thousands of collective bargaining agreements that go on without a hitch every day and they represent the betterment of the middle class, the blue collar population.”
As a public employee and a public employee union official, Henry said he has acquired valuable insight on how government works that will redound to the betterment of the community if he is entrusted with a leadership role.
“I bring a particular skill set to the game,” Henry said with regard to what he sees as the major challenge facing both the county as a whole and the First District. “We have to get jobs. There is a chicken or the egg first question. What do you need first? Jobs or public safety? People have to feel safe in the stores where they shop and on the road and in their homes. We need to hire highly trained and well paid first responders – police, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs [emergency medical technicians] so people can work and live. If we don’t have that, the jobs won’t come. We have to build collaterally together. There is a synergy between jobs and safety. Jobs will not come without public safety. Safety cannot be paid for without jobs.  Once everything is here, people have to feel safe.”
With regard to the First District’s needs as distinguished from those of the rest of the county, Henry said that the High Desert needs more than anything else “infrastructure. That is a huge thing in the First District. The First District is uniquely qualified to host jobs. We have the space. We have a trained work force, many of   who go to work down the hill. We need to build infrastructure, roads to get people up and down the hill and improve the infrastructure here to support more factories and warehouses. The area around Southern California Logistics Airport is a perfect example of an area that can produce jobs. We could make it an inland port. With investment, that alone could produce thousands of jobs”.
Henry said he is just what the First District and the county needs on the board of supervisors. He said two of his opponents in the race – Michael Orme and Robert Smith – are linked to the disgraced political leadership of the past, including former First District supervisor Bill Postmus, who has pleaded guilty to perjury, soliciting and receiving bribes and using methamphetamine while in public office, and Postmus’s former chief-of-staff, Brad Mitzelfelt, who covered for Postmus while he was engaged in those depredations and was then rewarded by becoming Postmus’ hand-picked successor as supervisor. Smith and Orme both worked as field representatives for Postmus. “One of the key things in this race is many of the other candidates  have long term ties to individuals with a host of problems. If people want the same old business as usual, I am not the one to vote for. I have thirty years of honor and integrity in the Marines and the fire service, solving problems. I believe what is needed is a personality such as mine to fight for the First District. I love the First District. There were some uphill battles I engaged in when I was in the Marine Corps. There have been uphill battles when I was with the US Forest Service and County Fire. I will fight for the First District.”
Henry weighed in on  a countywide voter initiative on the ballot in November which calls for reducing the supervisors to part-time status and trimming their individual combined pay and benefits package from $270,000 per year to $60,000 per year.
“Looking at a budget the size of San Bernardino County’s, the issue isn’t full or part time. It is pay,” he said.
If the measure passes Henry suggested it will be difficult for  the county to attract supervisorial candidates of the  quality he said he embodies.
“If you are paying $60,000 a year, some people are not going to want to serve. I am still a working class guy. You want someone in that position who fits the job and is creative and smart. If you reduce the pay, people are not going to tend to want to accept that. You would create a situation like what you have with city councils where you have the city manager running the show. If you do not pay a decent salary and provide good benefits, you are not going to attract the same caliber of people. You will get people who see it as something to do part time. I would say for sure that in the desert we would have a better system if our city council members were there full time. If this initiative passes, you are going to cut down on your applicant pool. But if that is what the people decide they want, then they are entitled to that.”
A resident of Hesperia, Henry, 49, grew up in Reseda and later earned an emergency medical technician certificate from Victor Valley Community College. He was in the Marine Corps from 1981 to 1990. He worked as a paid call and full time firefighter with the United States Forest Service for almost seven years and then went to work for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, where he has been for more than 14 years. He is presently a fire captain overseeing operations in Fontana. He has long been active in fire employee union activities and has acceded to the position of union president. In that capacity, Henry earned public pension investment management certificates from Stanford Law School and the Hass Business School at the University of California at Berkeley. He also earned certificates in trustee studies and institutional investing from Harvard Law School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is not currently married but has children.

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