San Bernardino County supervisors Brad Mitzelfelt, First District; Janice Rutherford, Second District; Neil Derry, Third District; Gary Ovitt, Fourth District; and Josie Gonzales, Fifth District (File photos)

Joe Nelson, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Posted: 01/23/2012 03:05:32 PM PST

The president of San Bernardino County’s most powerful labor union announced Tuesday it is bankrolling an initiative to reduce county supervisors’ jobs to part-time status.

The announcement by Laren Leichliter, president of the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association, or SEBA, came hours after he appeared before the Board of Supervisors to protest pension reforms proposed by Supervisors Janice Rutherford and Gary Ovitt.

On a narrow vote, the board authorized county counsel to draft a ballot measure requiring any proposed pension increases for county employees be put to a vote by taxpayers.

Leichliter was one of two union leaders, the other Bob Blough of the San Bernardino County Public Employees Association, which represents roughly 11,000 county employees, to appear before the board to protest the proposed pension reforms.

SEBA is the union that represents sheriff’s deputies and other public safety employees. Leichliter said his announcement was not an intimidation tactic,and that the union had petition circulators out as early as last Thursday, before the pension reform item was placed on the supervisors’ agenda.

“All our elected officials, according to them they’re all overpaid, so we’re just trying to assist them in their progression of trying to save county residents money,” Leichliter said.

Rutherford, however, saw the announcement as an intimidation tactic aimed at deterring supervisors from adopting any employee pension reforms.

“Clearly, unions are used to getting their way,” Rutherford said. “They’re (SEBA) angry at the thought to pension reform happening, so they’re trying to bully the board and they’re used to it. They’ve done that for a long time in this county.”

Before Leichliter’s announcement, Supervisors Neil Derry, Josie Gonzales and Brad Mitzelfelt expressed concern about various issues regarding Rutherford’s and Ovitt’s proposal, such as how the reforms could disrupt ongoing negotiations between the county and its labor unions and concerns that the proposal was rushed.

Both Gonzales and Mitzelfelt said they would rather wait and review the draft ballot measure so they could make an informed decision.

Leichliter said a Wrightwood resident launched the petition drive and had gathered roughly 14,000 signatures before signing the responsibility over to SEBA. The union needs a total of 53,000 petition signatures to get a measure placed on the November ballot.

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