Supervisor Josie Gonzales


Published: 24 January 2012 07:08 PM

San Bernardino County supervisors moved forward Tuesday with a proposal to require voter approval of future pension increases but face opposition from employee unions who quickly announced plans for a competing measure aimed at supervisors.

The board agreed to have county staff draft a ballot measure requiring voter approval before retirement benefits for county employees, legislative officers and elected officials could be increased. But final approval is not assured with supervisors split 3-2 on whether to consider the proposal.

Board Chairwoman Josie Gonzales, who cast the tie-breaking vote, expressed serious misgivings but said she would wait until seeing the ballot measure language before making a final decision.

Supervisor Janice Rutherford said the measure allows voters a say in long-term costly financial decisions. For every dollar the county spends on salaries, 27 cents is paid for pension costs for general employees and 47 cents for public safety employees, she said.

“This is simply insurance for the taxpayers who will be footing the bill long after politicians and union leaders are out of the picture,” Rutherford said.

She said she hoped to have the ballot measure ready for the June election. She noted that other counties, including Riverside and Orange, have enacted similar measures.

But leaders for the two largest unions representing county employees said it could hurt the county’s ability to work with the groups in the future.

“Do you not trust your own ability to make decisions you were elected to make?” Bob Blough, general manager of the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, representing about 11,000 county employees, asked them.

Laren Leichliter, president of the Safety Employees Benefit Association, representing about 3,100 public safety employees, echoed those sentiments. He said unions would not be able to trust negotiations with the county, knowing that it could ultimately hinge on an election campaign.

Rutherford said the proposal does not take away employees’ benefits but merely requires them to make the case for any increases to voters. However, only Supervisor Gary Ovitt, who co-sponsored the measure, expressed support.

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