Political Reformers Want Initiative To Reduce Supervisors To Part Time

A citizens group is pushing ahead with a drive to qualify a countywide initiative for the November ballot that would reduce members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to part time status and impose on them a commensurate reduction in pay.
The effort is being undertaken by the Red Brennan Group, which is named after the late government reform advocate who qualified a similar initiative for the ballot in 2012. Overall, when the current effort was initiated in October, advocates wanted to put 13 reform proposals before the voters but were thwarted when the office of county counsel, the county’s stable of in-house attorneys, objected to several of the provisions as unconstitutional and contended that loading an initiative with so many provisions violated the State of California’s single subject initiative rule.
Over the last several months there has been much legal back and forth on the matter, including a ruling by Judge David Cohn rejecting the Red Brennan Group’s interpretation that the letter of the law and previous California Supreme Court decisions hold that those attempting to qualify voter initiatives should be provided with the opportunity to proceed to the signature gathering stage irrespective of government objections and that challenges of the legality or constitutionality of the specifics in a proposed initiative are properly taken up after sufficient signatures have been gathered. Judge Cohn upheld the county’s pre-ballot challenge to the Red Brennan Group’s initiative based on substantive issues. After the initiative proponents resubmitted the reform package as 13 separate initiatives, the county through its office of county counsel successfully sued for relief from having to provide ballot title and summary on ten of the initiatives, and a single initiative containing an administrative error was discarded. Ultimately, the county provided ballot title and summary for two initiatives.
According to Red Brennan Group Spokesman Tom Murphy, “We recognized Judge Cohn’s decision provided county counsel legal cover far beyond that allowed by the California State Constitution, and well outside of established election law. We saw that this decision would further embolden county counsel to function as the initiative ‘gatekeeper,’ essentially swatting down submissions the county interprets as unlawful or in violation of California law.”
Accordingly, the Red Brennan Group appealed Cohn’s decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, with the backlog of cases on appeal being considered by the appellate court and the clock ticking toward the 2018 election season, the prospect of a ruling coming in time for the ballot initiative petitioners to gather the requisite signatures to succeed was dim. “We are at this point prohibited from circulating any of the ten initiatives held in legal limbo,” Murphy said. “Time is running out. Professional signature gathering organizations indicate the deadline to qualify an initiative for the November 2018 ballot is, effectively, the beginning of May. For that reason, the Red Brennan Group has decided to push ahead with a single initiative.”
That initiative calls for altering the San Bernardino County Charter to stipulate that the post of county supervisor is a part-time position, with pay limited to no more than $5,000 per month. The initiative allows supervisors to hold full-time employment separate from their duties as county supervisor.
At present, county supervisors receive $151,193.17 per year in salary, $24,300.12 in what is termed “other pay,” and $94,138.60 in benefits for a total annual compensation package of $269,631.89.
To qualify the initiative for the ballot, petitioners will need to gather 53,830 valid signatures of the county’s registered voters.
According to Murphy, “The intent of the initiative is to ensure elected leadership of the county is responsive to the people of the county. On average, a county supervisor earns more than four times the median household income in San Bernardino County in pay and benefits, along with lifetime retirement benefits including healthcare. The Red Brennan Group believes leadership matters – particularly elected leadership. This initiative effort is designed as a first step for citizens of the county to reject a ‘ruling class’ mentality and ensure county government is responsive and in touch with its citizens.
-Mark Gutglueck

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