Attenuated SB Charter Fix Package Proceeds

The San Bernardino City Council this week mandated that the new municipal charter that is likely to go before voters in November maintain one of the current provisions in the city’s electoral process that was set for revision. In most other respects, a previously previewed document put together by a committee that outlines how the city is to function in the future remains intact.
The city’s current charter was in the main adopted 111 years ago, in 1905, with some changes having been made to it through the electoral process when initiatives to make those specific alterations were approved by the city’s voters.
Suggestions that the current charter is antiquated and not in keeping with the modern standards of organization and governance for most cities in the state prompted the council to appoint a charter review committee to come up with a new operational blueprint for the county seat with a population of just over 214,000. The vast majority of those proposed changes was approved in concept by the council in May, including undoing the charter’s current provision of requiring that those elected to the city’s public offices receive a majority vote in their elections. The charter review committee had dispensed with that requirement, calling for the victor in a race with three or more candidates who received the most votes to accede to office, even if his or her vote total is less than 50 percent. While the council previously tentatively approved that change, this week it reconsidered and has now called for the policy of having the two top vote-getters in a race where the victor does not receive a majority face each other in a run-off election.
The full form of the proposed charter, which must go before voters to replace the current one, is to come back to the city council on August 4, at which time the council will vote whether or not to actually send the charter proposal to a vote in November.
The current charter, which provides for a mayor who has administrative power close to or co-equal to that of the city manager but gives the mayor no vote on normal council decisions but does allow him/her to break a tie or veto any 5-2 or 4-3 votes, has been decried as one that leaves the city without a clearly defined demarcation of leadership, as stated in the phrase “Everyone is in charge so no one is in charge.”
The intent of the new charter, its drafters maintain, is to establish clear lines of authority and responsibility by which the city council makes policy and major financial decisions, while the day-to-day operation of the city is delegated to the city manager.
The charter proposal as drafted ends the mayor’s authority to appoint department heads, designates the city manager as the city’s chief executive officer, keeps the mayor elected at large and retains the current number of wards in the city at seven. It changes the timing of elections from odd-numbered years to have them correspond with presidential and gubernatorial elections in even-numbered years and dispenses with the elected status of the city clerk, the city attorney and the city treasurer, such that those positions would be hired ones, nominated by the city manager and approved by the city council. The new charter reduces or eliminates the city attorney’s purview in engaging in policy considerations. The mayor would remain ineligible to vote on routine matters but would still have tie-breaking power and veto power, though such vetoes could be overridden with five votes. The city would keep its 30-day residency requirement for running for office, the current requirement and the longest permissible under California law. The new charter keeps in place each individual council member’s ability to appoint committee and commission members.
The new charter provides for a water department and library that are independent from the city council’s direct control and are overseen by library and water boards. The civil service department continues as the appeals forum of disciplinary action.
This week councilman Henry Nickel floated a proposal to change the proposed charter to designate the mayor’s term as two years instead of the current four. Nickel said this would give all members of the council the opportunity to run for mayor mid-term during their tenure in office so as not to require that those running risk losing their council positions if they lose the mayoral election. The motion failed to achieve a needed fourth vote, as council John Valdivia was absent and the three votes of approval by councilmembers Fred Shorett and Bessine Richard and Nickel were countermanded by those of Virginia Marquez, Benito Barrios and Jim Mulvihill.

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