Safety union announces push for part-time supervisors
January 25, 2012 10:31 AM
Natasha Lindstrom, Staff Writer

SAN BERNARDINO • On a split vote Tuesday morning, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors directed staff to draft a ballot measure that would require voter approval for any future pension increases for county employees.

A few hours later, the county Safety Employees’ Benefit Association announced it was funding an effort to reduce the Board of Supervisors to part-time status.

The pension ballot measure would prevent any increases in retirement benefits for county employees, legislative officials and elected officials without voter approval. It would make exceptions for cost-of-living adjustments.

Supervisors Janice Rutherford and Gary Ovitt touted the idea for giving taxpayers a say in retirement benefits, and Supervisor Josie Gonzales voted in favor of at least reviewing a draft proposal.

But supervisors Brad Mitzelfelt and Neil Derry rejected the idea over concerns it would hamper upcoming contract negotiations without addressing comprehensive pension reform.

“Nobody’s talking about increasing any pensions. It wouldn’t change any formulas,” Derry said by phone before SEBA’s announcement. “This measure was a big stick in the eye and it was unnecessary and it wouldn’t change a thing, but it would hurt our ability to negotiate future pension reforms with our unions. While we need to come to an agreement, we need to do it in a manner that’s fair and open and creates dialogue, not something that shuts the dialogue down.”

Mitzelfelt had some similar concerns, though depending on the drafted proposal’s details “he may still vote to place the proposed measure on the ballot,” according to David Zook, chief of staff for Mitzelfelt.

SEBA, comprised of 3,100 members including sheriff’s deputies, district attorney investigators and probation corrections officers, is backing the “San Bernardino County Elected Officials Pay Reduction Act” to reduce compensation for supervisors and slash their office budgets from a total of $6 million to $250,000 per office.

The SEBA Political Issues Committee has been funding paid petition circulators “who are gathering signatures at a record pace” for the “very popular charter amendment,” according to a statement by SEBA President Laren Leichliter.

“It is our position that the Board of Supervisors has become a part-time body and should be compensated accordingly,” Leichliter said in the statement. “Over the past two years they have met barely 50 percent of the time. They have delegated much of their constitutional duties to an unelected CEO. Their land use responsibilities are shrinking with annexations and incorporations.”

Other actions at Tuesday’s meeting included

• The board directed staff to draft an ordinance reducing elected department heads’ benefits packages to put them in line with counterparts in neighboring counties. The decision was made on a 4-1 vote, with Gonzales opposing. Supervisors already approved a similar ordinance reducing their own benefits by about $48,000 annually.

• Supervisors set aside $2.63 million for a new Spring Valley Lake fire station and awarded a $210,091 design contract to STK Architecture. To save on costs, STK will base the design on a modified version of the design for the county’s new station in Needles. The project is expected to begin construction in late summer or early fall and be completed in fall 2013.

• The board approved a new prescription drug discount program for Sans Bernardino County residents. Coast2Coast Rx cards, which cover more than 60,000 medications, can be printed at www.coast2coastrx.com/sbc.

Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at NLindstrom@VVDailyPress.com.

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