Ideas for impound yard, charter also inch along
Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/06/2010 10:00:47 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – The City Council on Tuesday moved toward higher sales taxes and a renewal of last year’s effort to create a city-run impound yard.

Both issues were decided by narrow votes. In another closely divided vote, the council approved language for a City Charter amendment that would give it and the mayor the power to appoint three key city positions.

Those offices – city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer – are currently selected by the voters.

None of the three votes were final. The council must vote again by Aug. 6 to put the sales tax and City Charter measures on the November ballot.

The council also did not approve the creation of a new impound yard. Tuesday’s action allows city employees to update plans for such a facility.

The council voted 4-3 to allow City Manager Charles McNeely to prepare a ballot measure that would raise sales taxes by one-half cent to 9.5 percent.

Council members Virginia Marquez, Tobin Brinker, Fred Shorett and Rikke Van Johnson voted for it. Jason Desjardins, Chas Kelley and Wendy McCammack voted against.

Shorett said he does not want higher taxes but thinks the electorate should decide between raising levies or rejecting taxes and so directing the council to make serious cuts.

“They’ll speak at the ballot and they’ll speak loudly,” he said.

Kelley opposed the tax and said San Bernardino should not spend more than $100,000 to put the measure on the ballot.

He also thinks it’s foolish to spend up to another $100,000 on a city-funded “education campaign” for the measure.

If the sales tax and charter proposals end up on the ballot, voters may witness another season of intense campaigns.

Proponents of the charter amendment say the idea is to modernize City Hall, but opponents deem it to be an old-fashioned power game in which Mayor Pat Morris and his council allies try to oust the mayor’s longtime rival, City Attorney James F. Penman, from office.

“Instead of running candidates for city attorney, they’d rather kick him out this way,” McCammack said.

McCammack made those remarks before winding up on the losing side of another 4-3 vote that approved language for a charter amendment. Taking election politics out of the city attorney’s job is vital, Brinker said.

“I often have difficulty knowing when I’m getting good, unbiased legal information from the city attorney,” he said.

If ratified, the proposed amendment would go into effect in March 2011, one year before Penman’s current term expires.

The tow yard proposal is something the council rejected in August. The idea is for the Police Department to create a secure lot for vehicles subject to 30-day impounds or being kept as evidence.

The council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to renew study on the proposal. Desjardins recused himself because he owns Big Z Towing, which has a city contract.

The police union supports the idea.

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