San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 07/15/15 – 9:22 PM PDT |

RIVERSIDE >> Nothing in the city charter prevents San Bernardino from outsourcing its Fire Department, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled Wednesday in a blow to the fire union that its attorneys immediately said they would appeal.

The ruling clears the way for the city’s plans to replace city firefighters — plans that have been underway for months with the San Bernardino County Fire Department and the private firm Centerra submitting bids to provide fire service, and which the city counted on to save $7 million to $10 million a year in its bankruptcy exit plan filed in May.

It’s a limited ruling, because U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury said attorneys may be able to convince her later that state law requires the city to go through a formal “meet and confer” process with union officials before outsourcing, but it clearly — and unsurprisingly — went against the union, said fire union attorney Corey Glave.

“This is not unexpected,” Glave told the judge after she gave a tentative ruling and invited him to argue against it. “This has been an anti-labor case from the beginning and it continues as such.”

Jury responded: “I don’t buy that, but go ahead.”

There are several parts of the city charter that the fire union alleges requires the city to have a Fire Department composed of city employees.

The union was backed up by a city attorney’s opinion from 1991, when James F. Penman was in office, advising that the charter did not permit outsourcing the police or fire departments. That was countered by an opinion current City Attorney Gary Saenz wrote after the outsourcing move had already begun, asserting the opposite.

Saenz’s extremely recent opinion shouldn’t be a factor, Jury said, and even Penman’s opinion written before the current controversy was more like a lawyer’s advice to a client than a neutral finding such as an attorney general’s opinion, she also said.

“Quite frankly, almost none,” she said of the influence city attorney opinions had on her decision. “I know that case law says I’m to give them (city attorney opinions) weight unless they’re ‘clearly erroneous.’ I guess I think it’s a flawed analysis of the law (to say the charter prohibits outsourcing), and if that makes it clearly erroneous, if that’s the words I’m supposed to say, I find it clearly erroneous.”

To read expanded story, click here.