San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 09/04/16 – 4:12 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Labor Day begins the big campaigns for and against the ballot measure to replace the city’s charter — essentially a constitution that, if changed, could either finally free city officials to fix the city and increase voter participation or could throw away the city’s heritage and citizen protections, depending on who’s arguing.

But most people haven’t heard either argument.

Two-thirds of likely voters have not seen, heard or read anything about efforts to replace the city charter, according to a poll of 400 people.

A citizen committee began those efforts in earnest months after residents voted down one of their two suggested charter amendments — Measure Q, the proposed change to how police and firefighters are paid which had gotten far more focus — in November 2014. The committee began earlier that year, formed as one of Mayor Carey Davis’ first acts after being sworn in.

For years before that, though, some city hall officials and watchers have periodically pushed for charter reform — with others opposing most of those efforts.

Conducted in early August for the “Yes on a New San Bernardino Charter” political action committee, the poll by Los Angeles-based FM3 via telephone also found support for charter reform surged from 45 percent at the beginning of the call to a 63 percent “after all information is provided about the positive and negative aspects of Charter reform.”

“Most voters don’t know the charter is 111 years old, written when there were fewer than 10,000 people in San Bernardino, and now as a city of over 200,000, we need a charter that is comparable to all the other cities around us, that brings us into modern, efficient and transparent government,” said Betsy Starbuck, chairwoman of the campaign to replace the charter.

Yet the author of the ballot statement opposed to the charter reform, attorney Tim Prince, said that the dozens of “non-insider” residents he’s talked to about the charter almost all wind up opposed to change.

“They don’t want to give up their right to vote,” Prince said. “They don’t trust placing the city’s business in the hands of appointed officials.”

While many cities in the Inland Empire and the rest of the state operate under general law, following a pattern set by the state, San Bernardino has operated under its own city charter — amended several times — since 1905.

The 48-page document provides the framework of which positions are elected and which are appointed, the responsibilities of those officials and certain other restrictions.

The proposed new charter is 14 pages.

To read expanded article, click here.