SB Mayor Cuts Political Umbilical With Veto Of Former Mayor’s Son’s Contract

SAN BERNARDINO—In a move that potentially signals a sea change with regard to political alignments on the San Bernardino City Council, Mayor Carey Davis last week made rare use of his veto power to sever the city’s relationship with the son of his predecessor, who was also a key supporter in his successful election as mayor last year.
Carey Davis came into office last year after defeating Wendy McCammack in a special runoff election held after no single candidate among the ten running for mayor in November 2013 captured a majority of the vote. Davis succeeded Patrick Morris as mayor, who had served eight years in that position after an illustrious legal career as a Superior Court judge and prominent member of the district attorney’s office, during which he had supervised the prosecution in the celebrated Lucille Miller murder trial of 1964 and 1965, twice served as presiding judge of the Superior Court and blazed a trail through uncharted legal territory by creating San Bernardino County’s drug court, which was devoted as much to rehabilitation as it was to punishment.
Morris, a Democrat, as mayor had joined with other Democrat mayors in California such as Chuck Reed of San Jose in cutting across the traditional political grain by opposing public employee labor unions in pushing for pension reform and reducing generous salary and benefits to public safety employees – policeman and firefighters. Morris stumped for such fiscal austerity in reaction to San Bernardino’s financial plight. A sputtering local economy had resulted in dwindling revenues in the county seat, ultimately culminating in a 2012 bankruptcy filing by San Bernardino during Morris’s seventh year in office. Morris’s chief rival on the city council had been McCammack, who pushed her council colleagues to maintain high salaries and generous benefits for the city’s police officers.
Davis, a certified public accountant who had a built-in understanding of what an organization needs to do to maintain solvency and ensure that expenditures do not exceed revenue, was philosophically in tune with Morris on the score of pulling San Bernardino out of its financial abyss. Morris endorsed Davis, and after soundly defeating McCammack, Davis came into office seeking to continue with the reforms Morris had initiated.
Mayor Morris had employed his son, Jim, as his chief of staff. In the Davis administration, Jim Morris had transitioned into the consulting post of assistant to the city manager, assigned to working on settling the redistribution of the assets left over from the dissolution of the city’s redevelopment agency. Legislation passed in 2011 and confirmed by the California Supreme Court in 2012 after challenges by a slew of municipalities, put redevelopment agencies out to pasture.
Because of its size and the intensity of its redevelopment activity, the shuttering of San Bernardino’s redevelopment agency was a particularly complex matter. In effect, Jim Morris had become San Bernardino’s redevelopment agency dissolution czar, the single city official most knowledgeable of what properties and assets were available to the successor agency to the San Bernardino Economic Development Agency, which had been the city’s redevelopment agency prior to 2012.
Jim Morris’s consulting contract with city, which paid him roughly $199,000 per year, was set to expire as of September 30. Last month, the city council voted 4-3, with council members John Valdivia, Benito Barrios and Henry Nickel dissenting, to renew the contract with Jim Morris. In In the wee hours of September 22, however, at the tail end of a city council meeting that had started at 5 p.m on September 21, Davis vetoed the $110 per hour contract extension with the son of his political mentor.
In doing so, Davis said that work Jim Morris was doing on putting the redevelopment successor agency issues in order had suffered from too many costly delays after having been previously slated for completion last April and that Morris was being detailed to other tasks outside the realm of the redevelopment property management assignments by the office of city manager Allen Parker.
Indeed, the jettisoning of Jim Morris stands as yet another milepost in the deteriorating relationship between Davis and Parker. Parker was hired during the final stage of the Patrick Morris regime and Parker was seemingly at one with Davis with regard to the need to streamline and make more efficient municipal staff to help right the city’s listing financial ship. But in late 2014, a majority of the city council bridled at Davis’s continuing employment of Michael McKinney as his chief of staff. McKinney had managed Davis’s successful mayoral campaign. When Parker sided with the council majority in ending McKinney’s role as mayoral chief of staff, the relationship between Davis and Parker went south. At that point, Davis appeared to have sought to reach out to three of the council’s members most disinclined toward Parker – Valdivia, Barrios and Nickel – in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to sack Parker.
In the last ten months, Parker and Davis have stayed on the same page with regard to dealing with an exit from bankruptcy – but only barely.
For their part, Parker and city attorney Gary Saenz on September 22 sought to convince Davis that keeping Morris in place as the city continues with its bankruptcy recovery plan and spins off, sells, redistributes or otherwise disposes of its redevelopment properties is worth the nearly $200,000 per year the city had contracted to pay him. At one point, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown was brought in to try to sell Davis on staying the course with Jim Morris.
Try as they might, Parker, Saenz and Brown, along with some other consultants working on the redevelopment retirement issue, were unable to dissuade Davis from axing Morris.
Unknown is what Davis’s veto of the Jim Morris contract has done to his relationship with Pat Morris. One report is that Davis and the elder Morris are no longer on speaking terms.
Nor is it clear what political connections Davis is now sustaining or cultivating. The basic tenets of his political and municipal managerial philosophy – cutting city operational costs and showing no special deference for firefighters or police officers in that process – still leaves him at odds with Valdivia and Nickel and to a lesser extent with Barrios.
He appears to have burned his bridge with councilman Fed Shorett, who was among the most passionate of advocates for keeping Jim Morris in place.
A further unknown at this point is whether a new ruling coalition on the council will emerge after the upcoming election. Councilman Rikke Van Johnson, a key member of the 4-3 ruling coalition of the council that consists of Johnson, councilwoman Virginia Marquez, Shorett and councilman Jim Mulvihill, is not running for reelection. He will be replaced by either Bessie Little-Richard, Roxanne Williams, Rafael Rawls or Anthony Jones. In addition, Mulvihill is being challenged by Scott Beard, Kim Robel, Leticia Garcia and Damon Alexander. Nickel is being challenged by Brian Davison and Naomi Waters. Valdivia is not being challenged.
It thus appears possible that the composition of the council might change significantly, creating a new controlling coalition.
In San Bernardino, the mayor does not have a vote on the council unless the vote ends in a tie. At that point, the mayor is empowered to vote. He does possess veto power, but that political reach has historically been utilized very infrequently. The mayor in San Bernardino does have considerable administrative authority, rivaling that of the city manager, which is an appointed position. That authority, in some measure, has contributed to the tension between Davis and Parker.
Efforts by the Sentinel to obtain input from Davis were unsuccessful.

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