San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 04/23/14, 7:56 PM PDT | Updated: 20 mins ago

SAN BERNARDINO >> Residents opposed to the direction taken by the city charter review committee submitted notice to the city clerk on Wednesday that they’ll be collecting signatures to get two proposed charter amendments on the ballot, independent of the citizen committee.

The notices are — at least in part — intended to block what seems to the proponents like the charter committee’s single-minded attack on Charter Section 186, which sets police and firefighter salaries, said proponent Randy Wilson.

“It seems to me the charter reform is interested in one thing and one thing only, and I don’t trust this wedding planner that’s supposed to be (advising them),” Wilson said, referring to Bill Mathis, a trained facilitator rather than the recognized charter specialist that was called for in the resolution creating the committee. “Maybe this will help them see the whole charter.”

At its third meeting on Tuesday, the committee agreed on seven items to debate and possibly advise the City Council to put on the ballot for a change. One of those is the provision committee members have previously called “the elephant in the room,” Section 186.

The proposed amendment most directly related to Section 186 was submitted by Joe Arnett and Patrick Major, and would set benefits for all full-time permanent employees as the average of similar-sized cities in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties.

“It’s completely irrational, given the financial mismanagement of the city for many years, to trust politicians with more flexibility on how to spend our tax money,” Arnett said. “San Bernardino needs to codify these things to maintain basic essential services, otherwise (city officials) will run off with the cookie jar. That’s why we’re in bankruptcy.”

Others have targeted Section 186, which sets firefighter and police pay as the average of 10 like-sized cities statewide, as a cause of bankruptcy.

The policy created an increased hit to the city’s general fund of more than $7 million over the last 10 years, including two years in which police but not firefighters agreed to forego raises and an average of about $600,000 in the two years since the city filed for bankruptcy.

The percentage of the budget going to the two public safety departments has remained steady for 20 years, according to information City Manager Allen Parker gave the committee Tuesday: 64 percent in fiscal year 1994-1995, 68 percent in 2002-03 and 68 percent in 2013-14.

But benefits are negotiated separately and are “very poor,” San Bernardino Police Officer Associaton President Steve Turner told the committee Tuesday.

“I think we attract candidates that have a tough time finding a job somewhere else,” he said, with higher-paying cities getting the cream of the crop.

San Bernardino officers are qualified, Turner said, but if pay and morale drop, the city risks becoming a training ground for new officers.

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