Board Initiates County Charter Revision Effort

(September 20) The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on September 17 initiated a public discussion of making comprehensive changes to the county charter.
One likely revision will pertain to officially installing the county chief executive officer as the county’s ultimate administrative authority. While county governance has evolved in the 101 years since the charter was first adopted so that the chief executive officer, formerly known as the county administrative officer, serves as the county’s de facto chief executive, the charter specifies the chairman of the board of supervisors as the county’s ultimate executive authority.
Upon being hired into the county administrative officer’s position in 2010, Greg Devereaux insisted on a title change to chief executive officer to reflect his duties. In moving toward the charter revision, the board appears intent on maintaining itself as an elected representative administrative-legislative body with the power to enact ordinances and set policy, while designating the county chief executive officer as the entity through whom the policy is put into effect, and in whom is entrusted the authority to make administrative decisions and appointments while remaining ultimately answerable to the board.
Devereaux’s contract stipulates that he cannot be terminated on any vote less than a supermajority, that is, by at least four of the board members. Previously, a simple majority of the board, that is, three of its five members, was all that was required to terminate the chief administrative officer. The board will have the option of modifying the charter to require a supermajority vote to terminate any future chief executive officer.  All contemplated changes would need to be approved by county voters.
In reworking that portion of the charter, supervisor James Ramos said pains need to be taken to ensure that the supervisors do not surrender any portion of their elected authority.
The original county charter was approved by voters on November 5, 1912. It underwent some tweaking before it was officially put into effect in 1915.  The charter has been amended 36 times. Board members have expressed the view that certain elements and provisions of the charter are outdated, irrelevant or in conflict with certain governmental principles that have been adopted in recent decades.
“We have not kept up to date with modern governance,” Board Chairwoman Janice Rutherford said.
Board members said they want to reframe the charter and include in it recently adopted voter-approved mandates such as term limits along with board-approved political donation limits.
At least two public hearings on proposed charter revisions are to be held over the next two months, giving citizens an opportunity to provide county staff with input on what revisions should be incorporated into a draft charter to be shaped and finalized by the board itself early next year so that it can be presented to voters for approval in the June 2014 election.

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