San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 07/18/14, 12:26 AM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Residents and city employees said their piece Thursday evening at the final public hearing on five proposed amendments to the city charter before the City Council’s planned Aug. 7 vote on whether to put those changes on the ballot.

Those changes include eliminating the guarantee that police and firefighter pay be set as the average of 10 cities with a population between 100,000 and 250,000, a lightning rod in city politics for years.

Several rows of firefighters, wearing San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters shirts, were present in the Council Chambers to oppose the elimination of those guarantees, contained in Section 186.

“Without a competitive average wage formula, San Bernardino will experience a crisis with retaining and attracting qualified employees,” said firefighter Rich Lentine, the union’s first vice president. “In San Diego, after reducing wages below average, they are seeing a trend of employees deciding to leave and they are being turned down when extending job offers.”

Some residents also pushed against repealing Section 186’s protections — the section would still exist, but would say that “the safety of the people in the City is a highest priority” and pay will be set by collective bargaining — but resident Jim Smith said it should be put on the ballot for the citizens at large to decide.

“San Bernardino’s very unique,” he said after praising firefighters for their response times. “As you know, our salaries are set by the average of 10 cities – but we’re the only one of those cities that has a 186.”

Under state law, the council has to hold a series of public meetings and can’t vote to put a charter change on the ballot until 21 days after the final public hearing. That 21-day mark comes Aug. 7, when the council is scheduled to vote, with Aug. 8 being the county’s deadline to put it on the November ballot. The changes can only be approved in November of even-numbered years.

Council members spoke relatively little on the merits of Section 186, on which most have already staked out strong positions.

Several council members suggested some or all of the other suggested changes might not be worth the money and possible voter fatigue of putting on the ballot this year.

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