Committee Previews Proposed SB Charter Change Reducing Mayoral & Attorney’s Clout

The public this week was given a glimpse of the parameters along which the form of San Bernardino’s redrafted municipal charter is likely to take.
San Bernardino, the oldest and largest city in San Bernardino County as well as the county seat, also has what is the most complex and convoluted of governing arrangements in the county. Indeed, the city’s charter represents one of the more involved systems of municipal governmental organization in the state.
Of California’s 482 cities, 361 of them are general law municipalities, guided by a common set of rules of governmental operation which provides for five council members headed by a mayor, who employ a city manager to run the city and appoint, designate or allow the election of a city clerk and city attorney. The other 121 California cities are charter cities, which have a set of operating guidelines specific to each particular municipality.
San Bernardino is one of the state’s charter cities. Its charter gives the city’s top political figure – the mayor – an uncommon degree of control over the day-to-day operations at City Hall, such that the mayor and the city manager are essentially co-regents over the city. This arrangement attenuates the authority of the city manager somewhat. Yet at the same time that the mayor’s administrative and managerial reach is extensive under San Bernardino’s charter, his actual political role is, paradoxically, quite limited. While he presides over the city council meetings and can control the ebb and flow of debate and discussion, he is not normally a voting member of the council, and is authorized to vote only in the event of a tie. The San Bernardino Charter also provides for an elected city attorney, making San Bernardino one of only eleven cities in the state with this distinction. San Bernardino is one of 154 California cities with an elected city clerk.
Former San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris, who was mayor from 2006 until 2014, has claimed that a major factor in the city’s fiscal deterioration, which led to its filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in 2012, was the city’s unwieldy form of governance as laid out in the charter.
Carey Davis, an accountant by profession and a one-time political ally to Morris, succeeded Morris.
As one of his first acts in office, Davis called for the creation of a municipal commission to consider charter changes. In Spring 2014, the charter revision committee was formed. Each of the council’s seven members was empowered to name one registered voter from their respective wards to serve on the committee and Davis was provided with 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 Mulvihill tapped Philip Savage. Davis selected Thomas Pierce and Dan Carlone. Savage was then chosen as the committee chairman.
At the February 29 city council meeting, Savage provided an update on the direction that panel is gravitating toward in terms of the recommendations it will offer in its draft charter to be considered by the city council later this year. Based upon the current charter, amendments, changes or a comprehensive makeover to the charter must be approved by the city’s residents in a vote and such votes can only take place in even-numbered years Accordingly, the city has set a goal of finalizing the ultimate draft of the revamped charter that is to be approved by the council at an early enough date that it can be provided to the county registrar of voters office in time to be placed on the ballot in November.
Savage said it is the collective consensus of not just the committee but city officials overall that the current “charter has imposed basic management and functions on the city” that have resulted in “crippling ambiguities with respect to the authority of the city manager mayor and council. Everyone is in charge, so no one is in charge.”
He said that the committee in looking at the city’s governance requirements had rejected the general law city model and set about redrafting charter options that were not based upon the existing charter, “which would provide the city a chance to set up a proven form and system of governance that support satisfaction, protection efficiency effectiveness and accountability.”
Basically, Savage said, the committee was contemplating a “council-manager form of government” in which “the city council shall be composed of the mayor and council members [with the] mayor elected at large, the council members elected by ward [and] the same four-year terms as the current model. The city council’s powers would be limited to legislative and policy making, with the city manager functioning as chief executive officer, responsible for daily operations.”
The mayor would, Savage said, have “a full vote with the city council, continue to be presiding officer at meetings, and fully participate in discussions while continuing to be the city’s key face and chief spokesperson.”
The mayoral position would also, Savage suggested, “continue to be essentially full time and the mayor would continue to represent the city in intergovernmental relations, establish and maintain partnerships and regional leadership roles, although the mayor may delegate such roles to other members of the council.”
The mayor would, Savage said, “No longer have independent administrative, appointment or removal powers.”
The commission was recommending that the city attorney and city clerk no longer be elected posts, Savage said.
As for the city council, Savage said, it would be composed of the mayor and six council members elected through a ward system. That would entail one fewer council member than the seven the council currently numbers, such that the full complement of council members including the mayor would consist of an odd number “to eliminate the possibility of tie votes.”
The council would be mandated, Savage said, to “ensure fundamental municipal services are provided to protect and promote public health, safety and welfare; to operate as a single governing body; to appoint the city manager, city attorney and city clerk; establish clear expectations for the city manager and conduct periodic performance evaluations to ensure the city manager’s accountability; develop and implement norms or a code of conduct, including measures to hold each other accountable; perform duties and exercise powers to serve the best interests of entire city, rather than a particular geographic area or special interest; and establish departments and assign departmental functions to meet the needs of the community in the most effective and efficient manner.
The council would also have the authority to establish advisory or independent boards or commissions.
Savage said it was the charter revision committee’s belief that the council should “not interfere with the judgment and discretion of management staff, such as the appointment, removal and supervision of subordinate staff.”
In this way Savage said, “The city manager will be sole authority for managing city operations and appointing and directing city staff, unless otherwise specified by the charter; will make business and policy recommendations based on independent professional judgement and best practices in the interests of the city; will be accountable for implementing council goals and policies and the overall performance of the city; and will be responsible for ensuring the city council is kept fully informed on important emerging issues, and will fully brief the council at council meetings on business matters before them.”
With regard to one issue, Savage said, the city manager should be free to show the city council who is boss. The city manager, Savage said, should be empowered to “strictly guard against interference with the performance of his or her duties.”
Compensation for the mayor and city council, Savage said, should “be set by the mayor and city council following a public hearing” and should “be based on recommendations of an advisory commission charged with the periodic review of compensation for city elected officials.” Additionally, Savage said, the commission was recommending that the “mayor’s compensation be commensurate with that for a full-time position.”
Savage intimated that the current position of elected city treasurer would be dispensed with and the treasurer’s function would be taken up by the finance department. Both the city clerk and city attorney should be appointed by the city council and the city attorney would, Savage said, “function as chief legal officer to provide legal advice to the mayor, council and city manager. The city attorney shall not be involved in formulation of policy. With the exception of the water and finance departments, Savage said the commission further recommended that “city departments should not be referenced in the charter, unless there is a compelling reason to do so. The city council should ensure fundamental municipal services to protect and promote public health, safety and welfare” and that the revamped charter should ensure that “the city council has the authority to create, modify or change departments as needed to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.” Savage called for the charter requiring that the city have a “department responsible for water, wastewater and sewer functions, with an oversight board of commissioners to be appointed by the city council” to “recommend rates for water, wastewater and sewer services.”
The city should also have a library board of trustees, according to the commission, as well as “a personnel system” and that “reference to the civil service board and its duties would be addressed in the municipal code.”
The commission also called for municipal elections to “be consolidated with the cycle for state and federal elections i.e., November of even-numbered years.”
Members of the city council in their comments were in general concurrence with the commission’s recommendations, though there was a call for more citizen input with regard to the charter change. Some residents in attendance at the meeting were critical of the composition of the commission, noting that the majority of its members were “old white men” who were not reflective of the community as a whole.
Councilman Benito Barrios sounded his objection to the recommendation that the number of council wards be reduced from seven to six.

Leave a Reply