Disempowering Valdivia Advances To The Next Level With Reduction Of Mayoral Salary

The effort to politically disempower San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia advanced this week, consisting of his council colleagues voting to reduce the $106,793 annual salary paid to the person holding the mayor’s position to $50,000.
While the reduction does not take effect immediately, it will apply to whoever is elected in this year’s mayoral race when the next term for the position initiates in December.
Valdivia, who was first elected to the city council in 2011, challenged and defeated incumbent Mayor Carey Davis in 2018, two years after the city’s 1905 charter had been altered to convert the municipality’s form of governance from the strong mayoral model it had functioned under for 111 years to a city council-manager system. Under the 1905 charter, the mayor had only marginal political power in that he or she presided over council meetings but did not have a vote except in making appointments or breaking a tie, augmented with veto power in the case of 3-to-2 or 4-to-3 votes. Nevertheless, the mayor traditionally had substantial administrative authority, which extended to being, in conjunction with the city manager, a co-regent with discretion in hiring and firing city employees.
The 2016 charter change stripped the mayor of administrative reach and did not change the position’s political status, meaning the mayor yet has no voting power beyond being able to veto narrow one-vote difference council decisions, break ties or participate in decisions with regard to hiring the city manager or city attorney and appointing city commissioners. Valdivia coveted having the control formerly entrusted to the mayor, and he opposed the charter change.
Upon being elected in 2018, he moved to artificially establish political authority and reestablish the mayor’s administrative primacy, forming alliances with five of the council’s seven members and using intrigue to fire the city manager and promote the assistant city manager to city manager in what he hoped would be a quid pro quo arrangement that would allow him to dictate municipal policy. Ultimately, however, as Valdivia sought to consolidate power, he burned bridge after bridge with the council members he needed to remain allied with to achieve his objectives. These faux pas were exacerbated by revelations about corrupt activity he was engaged in, which included his manipulation of council votes in exchange for money, including political donations and bribes.
Embattled though he was and is, Valdivia appears poised to maintain a vice-grip on the mayoralty, due to his intensive fundraising efforts, which left him with, as of June 30, 2021, $394,622.54 in his campaign war chest. He has bragged openly since then that he has received another $200,000 in donations in the intervening six-plus months, meaning he has approaching $600,000 to use in his reelection campaign.
Six of his council colleagues, believing that his actions and reputation for taking bribes and manipulating public policy in favor of himself, his political backers, business associates and cronies or attempts to do so have given the city a black eye, have formed a consensus that he should be removed from office.  He remains on good terms with only one of the council’s members, Juan Figueroa, whose electoral efforts were in large measure supported by disbursements from Valdivia’s electioneering fund.
The council, however, does not have the authority to remove him as mayor. Nor is the prospect that he can be defeated at the polls certain, given the overwhelming financial advantage he possesses in the way of available campaign funds that are eight to twelve times as large as his best-financed potential competitors. Meanwhile, Valdivia scoffs at suggestions that he might be held responsible for his bribetaking or the pay-to-play politics he engages in, maintaining he is impervious to prosecution by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
The strategy the council has come up with, though its actual intent remains unacknowledged, is to remove as best as its members can Valdivia’s incentive for remaining as mayor, one of which is the financial benefit he enjoys in that capacity aside from the cornucopia of bribes and kickbacks available to him, consisting of his remuneration, a paycheck of $2,053.71 weekly before taxes are taken out.
In 2020, Valdivia was paid $106,793 in salary as mayor, another $8,768 in stipends for attending meetings of regional boards, joint powers authorities and other governmental entities and committees such as the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and San Bernardino County Transportation Agency boards, in which capacities he serves as a representative of the city, along with medical, dental and other benefits such as a car and travel allowance totaling $24,665, and retirement benefits of $29,322.40, for a total taxpayer-defrayed compensation of $169,548.40 annually.
By significantly reducing the mayor’s $106,793 salary, members of the council hope Valdivia might be persuaded to forsake running for that office and perhaps use the money he has accumulated in electioneering funds to run for state or federal office, which would provide him with higher compensation.
Reasoning that the 2016 charter change relieved the mayor of administrative responsibility, the council asked City Manager Robert Field to do a survey of mayoral salaries in the local area involving charter cities rather than California’s more numerous general law cities. Field said that the mayors of Riverside, San Bernardino, Palm Springs, Adelanto and Needles averaged $50,040 in annual salary. Five members of the council – Theodore Sanchez, Fred Shorett, Ben Reynoso, Kimberly Calvin and Damon Alexander – voted in favor of dropping the mayor’s salary to $50,000.
Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra wanted Field to carry out an even wider survey of cities that function under the council-manager form of government, which includes general law cities, where mayors make far less, usually an amount comparable to what other members of the city council make, in the rough range of $500 to $1,500 per month, or approximately $6,000 to $18,000 per year. Both Ibarra and Figueroa voted against reducing the mayor’s salary to $50,000 per year.
Figueroa justified his opposition by saying the council should simultaneously reduce city council members’ $14,000 per year salaries.
San Bernardino’s mayor hereafter will make $50,000 in salary, and roughly $9,000 in other governmental entity stipends, $25,000 in benefits and receive a $30,000 retirement contribution, for an annual total compensation of about $114,000.
-Mark Gutglueck

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