SAN BERNARDINO’S FINANCIAL CRISIS

Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/28/2012 02:39:43 PM PDT

Special Section: San Bernardino

View: Annotated Charter

SAN BERNARDINO – Momentum may be growing to repeal the section of the city’s charter that sets salaries in the Police and Fire departments, although a deadline is fast approaching and officials who previously championed the idea now say any call for change must come from residents.

Some of those residents say the city’s economic troubles are worsened by Charter Section 186, which sets police and firefighter salaries as the average of 10 similarly sized California cities.

Those cities don’t have the same economy as San Bernardino, and officials need flexibility to set salaries based on what they can afford, said Jim Smith, a core member of a group called Save Our San Bernardino.

“We need to get rid of Section 186, if we can’t get rid of the whole charter,” said Smith, who also said letting voters decide in November on whether to keep the charter was the group’s primary goal. “The charter is what got us into this problem…. We need to give the citizens a right to vote on what kind of government they want in San Bernardino.”

The charter was passed by a citywide vote, and only a citywide vote can change it.

For that vote to come in November, the City Council would have to vote to put it on the ballot at the next meeting, Aug. 6, or at a special meeting later that week. The county registrar of voters estimates the election would cost between $90,000 and $120,000, according to City Clerk Gigi Hanna.

Partly with cost – and a looming bankruptcy – in mind, council members unanimously tabled a move last week to put the changes on the ballot.

But other community activists say the focus on
A San Bernardino police officer leaves the station to begin patrol. (Rick Sforza/Staff photographer)
police and fire pay is part of a misguided attack.

“Public safety has taken quite a beating thus far, and I think it’s shameful, first and foremost,” said Sharon Blechinger, who started a group called SBC Town Hall after the city authorized a bankruptcy filing that has 113 likes on Facebook and will hold its first meeting Wednesday. “The City Council, whichever city council it was, came to the conclusion that that’s how law enforcement was going to be compensated, and it seems fair.”

Blechinger, who runs The Mexico Caf in San Bernardino and is married to a recently retired police officer, said it could be productive to reconsider other aspects of the charter, such as the section dividing the city into seven wards.

But none of this has anything to do with the city’s financial problems, said City Attorney James F. Penman.

“It’s a red herring,” Penman said.

He said experts familiar with bankruptcy told him another California city recently going through bankruptcy – he wasn’t sure whether it was Vallejo or Stockton – changed its compensation policy to pay police and firefighters the average of 10 cities in the region, which he said indicated the wisdom of a similar approach.

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