Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/20/2010 08:48:26 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – Allegations that City Attorney James F. Penman challenged the police chief to a fight is a new aspect to the arguments over Measure C, a proposal to amend the City Charter.

There are major discrepancies between different parties’ recollections of the exchange between Penman and Police Chief Keith Kilmer, which took place Oct. 7.

The police chief himself and the city clerk say Penman challenged Kilmer to a fight. Neither say they are 100 percent certain, however, that Penman actually wanted to brawl.

Penman and a senior member of the City Attorney’s Office say he issued no such challenge and the allegations are products of nasty politics.

“I’m not foolish enough to fight with a man with a gun, and I’m not going to pick a fight. That’s a juvenile thing to do,” Penman said Wednesday. “I enjoy a good debate, I enjoy a good verbal exchange, but fistfights aren’t my thing. Not at this age.”

Penman is 63. The Charter is 105, and Measure C would change it to give the City Council and mayor power to appoint the city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer.

The city attorney’s purported challenge to Kilmer happened – or did not happen – at the conclusion of an Oct. 7 meeting held in a sixth-floor conference room at City Hall.

The meeting got off to a bad start when Penman and City Manager Charles McNeely disagreed on the agenda. Penman said Wednesday that he wanted to talk about anti-blight policies, but the agenda contained a number of issues he considered extraneous.

Penman acknowledges that he and the city manager had a heated conversation but disputes accounts of what happened later.

Kilmer’s memo reports that after the meeting’s end, Penman said something like “I suggest if you want to fight we go across the parking lot and do it.”

City Clerk Rachel Clark made a similar statement during a Tuesday night forum on Measure C. Clark supports the referendum, while Penman is an opponent.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Clark said she took notes of the exchange and that Penman said the following to Kilmer: “I do not walk away from fights. You and I have not fought yet. Let’s go into the parking lot and fight this out.”

Clark, however, also said that she did not know if Penman wanted to “fight” with fists or with words.

But Penman and Senior Assistant City Attorney Diane Roth said the city attorney had no intention of starting any kind of fight.

Penman said Wednesday that he only offered to continue conversing with Kilmer to discuss potential solutions to the issues discussed at the Oct. 7 meeting.

It is possible the chief misunderstood what was said, Penman said.

“I said, `Come on out to the foyer, come on out here.’ It was hard to hear what people were saying,” Penman said, adding he detected no anger between himself and Kilmer.

Roth said she overheard the interaction and that Penman made it clear he did not want to actually fight.

“I think I heard the chief say, `Are you challenging me to a fight?’ and Penman said, `No,”‘ Roth said. “I didn’t hear anybody challenge anybody to a fight.”

Kilmer said Wednesday he wrote his memo detailing the incident at McNeely’s request.

McNeely wanted a written record of the event in case any further disputes arise from the Oct. 7 meeting, he said.

He also said he is expecting city employees to submit human resources complaints that would require investigations if filed.

Whereas Penman and Roth described the accusations as being politically motivated, Kilmer and McNeely said their interest in documenting the Oct. 7 incident has nothing to do with the Nov. 2 election.

Kilmer said he would rather quit than make up a story for the sake of a political campaign.

“I’m not going to put my reputation on the line to deal with dishonesty,” Kilmer said.

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