SB To Seek Charter Amendment To End Automatic Cop & Firefighter Raises

(May 8)  SAN BERNARDINO—As was widely anticipated, the San Bernardino citizens municipal charter review committee this week recommended that in November a ballot initiative be placed before city voters calling for dispensing with the city’s charter Section 186.
Section 186 effectively locks in salaries for the city’s public safety employees that are at par with or greater than those salaries received by their counterparts in ten similarly sized California cites.
San Bernardino is a charter city as opposed to a general law city. Its charter and amendments thereto, per state law, are approved by the city’s voters. Provisions put into the charter by means of a citywide vote over a decade ago require that the city’s public safety employees – firefighters and police officers – be paid on a scale equal to the average pay of police officers and firefighters in ten similarly-sized California cities.
San Bernardino has been beset with financial difficulties that culminated in the city’s filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 2012. Former mayor Patrick Morris has maintained that a major factor in the city’s fiscal deterioration is excessive salaries and benefits provided to city employees and retirees. Carey Davis, an accountant by profession and a political ally to Morris, succeeded Morris in March after defeating Wendy McCammack, a former councilwoman who had long championed generous pay increases for municipal safety employees.
As one of his first acts in office, Davis called for the creation of a municipal commission to consider charter changes, suggesting that the requirement that police and fire officers be provided with raises based on salaries given to their counterparts in cities free of the financial challenges San Bernardino faces should be done away with. That move failed when it was pointed out that a municipal commission cannot be formed without prior voter approval. The proposal was adjusted to allow the creation of a citizens committee to review the city charter.
In the current fiscal year, police department and fire department operations represent 68 percent of the spending out of the city’s general fund. Salaries make up the lion’s share of those departments’ operating budgets.
Over the last several years, San Bernardino has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn that has gripped the nation, state and region. Despite the city’s 2012 filing for bankruptcy protection, it has continued to give firefighters and police officers raises in keeping with the provisions of Section 186 of the city charter. Yearly, city officials and police and fire union heads start with a list of California cities with populations between 150,000 and 250,000. In turns, each removes a city from that list until ten remain. Salaries are then computated upon the average pay to that particular group – firefighters or fire department management or policeman or police management – in the remaining ten cities.
During Morris’s rein as mayor, a schism had developed on the council over the continuation of what some characterized as too generous salaries and benefits to city public safety employees. Morris and several of his allies pushed for concessions from the police and fire unions on salaries and benefits. One Morris ally in particular, former 3rd Ward councilman Tobin Brinker, was outspoken about the need to reduce city payroll costs and he championed a city employee pension reduction measure that earned him the enmity of both the police and fire union.  He was targeted by those unions in the 2011 election and was defeated by John Valdivia, who upon election joined with the council coalition then led by councilwoman McCammack, which sought to sustain police and fire department pay at the established levels.
With the city’s bankruptcy filing, there was outrage in some quarters of the city over the continuation in the escalation of public safety employee pay. Morris became an outspoken advocate of pay and pension reform and supported Davis against McCammack in last year’s mayoral race, which resulted in a runoff between the two in which Davis prevailed earlier this year.
On March 17, the city council passed a resolution that was opposed by Valdivia which called for the creation of the citizens charter review committee. The resolution delineated that each of the council’s seven members would choose one registered voter from their respective wards to serve on the committee and that Davis would get two appointments to the panel, including one culled from the city’s business community.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Virginia Marquez selected Casey Daily for the committee; Ward 2 Councilman Benito Barrios  chose Dennis Baxter; Ward 3 Councilman John Valdivia appointed Gary Walbourne;  Ward 4 Councilman Fred Shorett selected Hillel Cohn; Ward 5 Councilman Henry Nickel chose Michael Craft; Ward 6 Councilman Rikke Van Johnson brought in Hardy Brown; and Ward 7 Councilman James Mulvill tapped Philip Savage.  Davis selected Thomas Pierce and Dan Carlone.
This week, the panel voted 7-2, with Walbourne and Craft dissenting, to make a non-binding recommendation to the city council that it use its authority to place a measure on the November ballot asking voters to repeal Section 186 and instead adjust salaries through the collective bargaining process.
Committee member Hardy Brown importuned his committee colleagues to do something about the public safety salary problem which he said has grown “to eat up 68 percent to 72 percent of the budget. This has reduced our ability to fairly allocate resources to other services that we expect our city government to provide. It has forced us to cut down on other employee services and compensation. It has not made us safer nor improved [staff] morale.”
Walbourne, who indicated he found persuasive police union president Steve Turner’s warning that police officers would leave for better paying opportunities elsewhere if Section 186 were rescinded, wanted the committee to delay its consideration of any recommendations, but was outvoted by his colleagues, who were racing to meet a county registrar of voters deadline for the city’s request that the measure be placed on the November ballot.

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