Supervisors Have Raised $829,000 To Fund The Campaign To Preserve Their $260,000 Per Year Total Compensation

Two years after San Bernardino County’s voters by a two thirds margin passed Measure K, a political reform initiative that reduced the pay of the total annual compensation of the individual members of the county board of supervisors from $260,000 per year to $60,000 per year and limited holders of that position to a single term in office, the supervisors this year are seeking to displace that refinement with a measure to restore their pay level and allow them to remain in office for at least three terms.
Turning out to support the supervisors in that effort have been a collection of developers, business interests and public employee unions, which are sponsoring the alternative initiative on this year’s ballot, Measure D, who have so far put up more than $829,000.
The use of Measure D by San Bernardino County’s political establishment to block the reforms layered into Measure K is the latest effort by the supervisors to prevent the Red Brennan Group from proceeding with structural changes to county government its members believe will safeguard taxpayer funds and reduce what its members consider to be the pernicious influence of special interests on county policy.
Kieran “Red” Brennan was a U.S. Navy submariner during World War II. His brushes with death as a young man in the service of his country while seeking to export democracy around the globe impressed on him the need to refine democracy at home. He pushed efforts to ensure government transparency and accountability, ones he hoped elected officials could be convinced to impose on themselves and, if not, would ultimately be put in place through the citizen initiative process.In his last hurrah before his 2013 death, Brennan in 2012 at the age of 87 headed an effort by a group of like-minded county residents in sponsoring an initiative, designated in that year’s balloting as Measure R, which called for downscaling the five individual San Bernardino County supervisors’ then-yearly $151,971 salaries and $67,500 in benefits to $50,000 in salary and $10,000 in benefits annually, a drop in total compensation from $219,471 per year to $60,000.
Alarmed at the prospect that they would be subject to seeing their pay reduced by more than two-thirds, the county supervisors used their authority as public officials to place their own “reform” initiative on the ballot, designated Measure Q, to compete with Measure R. Measure Q called for leaving the supervisors yearly $151,971 salaries in place and reducing their annual benefits then valued at $67,500 by $5,000 to $62,500. The touted Measure Q as a “sensible” and “moderate” approach toward political reform.
In the November 2012 election, Measure R passed by a convincing 64.25 percent to 35.75 percent, with 326,939 voters in favor of it and 181,907 opposed. Measure Q passed as well, by a 67.28 percent to 32.72 percent margin, 344,226 votes in support to 157,369 against it. Because it had garnered more votes than Measure R, Measure Q went into effect and Measure R did not.
The political reform movement in San Bernardino County was set back by Kieran Brennan’s death in 2013. Ultimately, however, many of those associated with him over the years created a nonprofit entity named in his honor. Unsatisfied with what they considered to be the ersatz reform of Measure Q and convinced that the overall annual compensation in the supervisors’ individual annual compensation at that point from $219,471 to $214,471 was inadequate, they initiated another voter initiative to reduce the supervisors’ pay, but were forced to give up on getting it on the ballot in 2018 when the supervisors in 2017 legally challenged the contents of that proposed initiative. The Red Brennan Group mobilized in 2019 and over a period of less than six months gathered 75,132 signatures of county voters to place another measure on the ballot, which was designated by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters as Measure K. Measure K covered the same ground as 2012’s Measure R but went a step further. In addition to calling for reducing the supervisors’ individual total compensation, which by that point had risen to $263,466.95 – consisting of $174,884.83 in salary, $20,461.61 in other pay and $68,120.51 in benefits – to the $60,000 originally proposed by Red Brennan in 2012, it also proposed limiting each supervisor to a single one-year term.
The calculation of the measure’s proponents mimicked Brennan’s reasoning that the supervisors’ total compensation, which was more than three-and-one-half times that made by the average county resident, put the county’s political leadership in a bracket that left the supervisors out of touch with the economic reality their constituents dealt with on a daily basis. Moreover, the inflated salaries and benefits the supervisors were provided left them, the reformers said, so intent on being reelected so they could keep those positions and the financial advantage holding those offices represented that they had grown desperate for political donations. Those donations, provided by individuals and corporations with contracts and/or franchises with the county or projects up for approval by the board of supervisors, created a circumstance in which the supervisors were more sensitive to their donors and their needs than the needs of the constituents they represented. Indeed, the Red Brennan maintained, the supervisors were being corrupted by the special interest money from those donors.
The board of supervisors attempted to repeat what had occurred in 2012 by placing an alternative initiative to Measure K on the ballot, one designated as Measure J.
Measure J perpetuated the existing cap of three four-year terms for supervisors and set their salaries at 80 percent of a Superior Court judge’s salary, which when taken together with the supervisors’ add-on pay and their benefits would bring their total annual compensation to somewhere between $270,000 to $290,000. Measure J also dispensed with genderist language that had been part of the county charter for more than a century which used pronouns such as he and him in reference to county officials, which, it was pointed out, no longer fit the current times when many of those serving in public office are women. It was the supervisors’ collective hope that just as had occurred eight years previously, their alternate reform measure would outperform the one sponsored by the Red Brennan Group and thus keep Measure K’s pay reductions from going into effect.
As it turned out, however, Measure K did much better at the polls than did Measure J. Measure K passed with 516,184 or 66.84 percent of the 772,282 voters participating supporting it, and 256,098 voters or 33.16 percent opposed.
According to the final certified election results released by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters, Measure J, the one sponsored by the supervisors, passed, with 378,964 votes or 50.72 percent of the 747,188 votes cast supporting it and 368,224 or 49.28 percent opposed.
Once the election results were certified, the board of supervisors, using taxpayer funds, contracted with three Los Angeles-based attorneys – Bradley Hertz, James Sutton and Nicholas Sanders – to prevent its members’ pay from being reduced. Hertz, Sutton and Sanders filed a petition for a writ of mandate aimed not at the Red Brennan Group, but rather the supervisors’ own employee, San Bernardino County Clerk of the Board Lynna Monell. The petition on behalf of the board of supervisors sought to prevent Monell from implementing Measure K, arguing that it violated the supervisors’ rights under the California Constitution to set their own salary, infringed on San Bernardino County citizens’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution through the imposition of term limits that prevented voters from reelecting incumbent supervisors and that Measure K violated “the single subject rule” pertaining to voter initiatives.
The county was granted an injunction preventing Measure K from going into effect while the legal action was pending, such that the supervisors have continued to be provided with their $270,000-to-$280,000 annual compensations. San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez ruled that the measure’s one-term limit is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, Alvarez found, Measure K is not severable, meaning that it could not be applied in part but had to be enforced in all of its aspects or not at all. Thus, Judge Alvarez said, the measure in its entirety must be struck down.
The Red Brennan Group, through its attorney, Aaron Burden, appealed Judge Alvarez’s finding to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Riverside. On July 12, 2022, the Fourth District Court of Appeal released a tentative decision stating that Judge Alvarez erred in striking down Measure K and that the passage of Measure K by initiative had to be certified and put into effect.
Faced again with the prospect of seeing their pay reduced, the supervisors in July voted 5-to-0 to put another measure on the November 2022 ballot, since designated as Measure D, which will, if passed, undo all of the provisions of Measure K.
As presented, Measure D would adjust the county charter so that the supervisors would receive a base annual salary equal to 80 percent of the annual salary of the judges serving on the San Bernardino Superior Court along with benefits provided to the county’s department heads. With the three percent annual cost-of-living increases that are applied to the salaries of county administrators and management, this would zoom the supervisors’ salaries to somewhere in the neighborhood of $290,000 per year. Judges in San Bernardino County currently receive $225,074 in base salary. As such, this would translate into the supervisors being provided with an annual salary of $180,059.20. The county’s department heads are provided with benefits ranging from $51,381.92 at the bottom and $82,380.25 at the top with an average of $66,560.02. The supervisors are provided with add-ons and perquisites ranging from $17,000.10 to $25,340.12 on a yearly basis with an average of $19,644.10. Thus, the measure the supervisors are proposing would, if passed, provide them with an average annual compensation of $266,263.32 as of this year, $274,251.22 as of next year and $282,478.75 by 2024, which would be subject to a 3 percent cost of living increase yearly thereafter with regard to their benefits and add-on pay and any raises provided to the county’s judges.
The supervisors included in Measure D a selling point they hoped will convince the voters they should support it. The measure, if passed, will require that if the board of supervisors is to put on any future ballot a proposal to increase taxes, it must do so by a four-fifths vote. As it now stands, the board of supervisors maintains it can call for a tax approval vote of the county’s residents with a vote by three of its members.
In this way, the supervisors and other supporters of Measure D refer to it as a win-win for the county and its residents, setting a three-term limit for supervisors and giving taxpayers the protection of requiring a four-fifths vote by supervisors to approve tax hikes before they can be put on the ballot.
According to others seeking government reform, however, the supervisors and Measure D’s supporters are engaging in doubletalk. According to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, “Measure D does not actually contain the taxpayer protections for which it attempts to claim credit. Thanks to Propositions 13 and 218, the people already have the right to vote on taxes, and Measure D’s requirement for a ‘four-fifths’ vote of the board of supervisors to place taxes on the ballot is misleading. Under current law – Government Code 53724 [Prop. 62] – general taxes already require a two-thirds vote of the supervisors, and two-thirds of five is the same four-vote requirement. Measure D would change only the vote requirement for board approval of special-purpose taxes, increasing it from three votes to four.”
Further, according to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, “Measure D deceptively promises to give San Bernardino taxpayers rights they already have while taking away something voters approved by a two-thirds majority only a couple of years ago.”
A number of individuals, entities, corporations and unions have swooped in to support the board of supervisors and the Good Government San Bernardino, Yes on D campaign committee in the effort to support Measure D, consisting of mailers, radio and television spots, internet pop-ups, newspaper ads, campaign signs, phone banks and fliers touting the initiative.
Good Government San Bernardino, Yes on D has received $12, 500 from trash service provider Athens Services, which holds the county franchise for managing landfills; $20, 000 from the Building Industry Association of Southern California; $5,000 from trash hauler Burrtec Waste Industries; $4,900 from Assemblyman Chad Mayes electioneering fund; $10,000 from developer Nachattar Chandi; $2,000 from Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren’s electioneering fund; $5,000 from the Galaxy Investors Partners Fund; $4,900 from Supervisor Curt Hagman’s electioneering fund; $25,000 from HIP So-Cal Properties LLC; $25,000 from developer Jeff Burum; $5,000 from former Supervisor Josie Gonzales’s electioneering fund; $7,500 from Ontario-based Loboso Ventures, Inc.; $4,900 from Supervisor Paul Cook’s electioneering fund; $20,000 from Prime Healthcare Services; $5,000 from attorney Robert Wheatley; $2,000 from obstetrician Jason Roloff; $10,000 from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company; $5,000 from the San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Association, the union representing the county’s deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders; $5,000 from Colton-based Medical Personnel Management Corporation; $20,000 from the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents some county employees; $20,000 from the California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization; $25,000 from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; $25,000 from Henderson, Nevada-based Equinox Gold Corporation Castle Mountain Venture; $5,000 from Chandi Enterprises; $25,000 from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents some county employees; $15,000 from Laborers Pacific SW Regional Organizing Coalitions Issue Political Action Committee; $1,500 from HOC Construction Inc; $150,000 from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Employees Benefit Association; $49,000 from Majestic Realty Company; $50,000 from the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council; $25,000 from Las Vegas-based MP Materials; $25,000 from the Sheriff’s Employees Benefit Association Political Action Committee Teamsters Local 1932; $30,000 from the California Association Realtors Issues Mobilization; $5,000 from The Crossings at Redlands LLC; $5,000 from David Wiener; $10,000 from Thomas Buttgenbach; $4,900 from Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s electioneering fund; $2,500 from MGR Property Management; $5,000 from Symbiosis Symons Emergency Specialties Inc.; $20,000 from Cadiz, Inc.; $1,000 from Rancho Cucamonga City Councilman Ryan Hutchison; $2,500 from former San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux; $45,000 from Paul Herrera; $49,900 from FH II Homebuilders Inc.

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