Jim Penman

James F. Penman sits in his home after the recall election in San Bernardino on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. (Photo by Rachel Luna / San Bernardino Sun)

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 11/06/13, 8:26 PM PST |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Love him or hate him — and there’s no shortage of residents and officials with either opinion — James F. Penman became in many ways the defining figure of this city in the quarter century he’s been city attorney.

Monday’s City Council meeting was much like hundreds of others he’s attended: He gave his thoughts to council members and the mayor, none of whom have been in office more than half the time he has, on legal issues and the wisdom of potential decisions. He swiveled around his chair to face the audience, and several times he stood up to speak to residents in City Hall.

If he was less prominent than he has been in many other meetings, Penman was still the man many in the audience watched to see if he might completely redirect the discussion.

He has many times before. After Tuesday, he says, he never will again.

City Clerk Gigi Hanna says she will swear in Penman’s successor, real estate attorney Gary Saenz, on Wednesday. That’s half a week before the next council meeting, but already Penman says he’s turning his attention away from decisions for the office’s future — such as guiding the city at its hearing Wednesday at U.S. Bankruptcy Court — and toward helping Saenz transition into the role.

The 60 percent of voters who chose to recall Penman in Tuesday’s election were passionately supported by many of the city’s other leaders, including the outgoing mayor whom Penman challenged at the ballot box in both his elections and at City Hall countless times over the past eight years.

“I think it’s — in a word — an epic change, a sea change at the table,” Mayor Pat Morris said Wednesday. “It’s not politics as usual anymore.”

Speaking at a crowded election-night party hosted by developer Scott Beard, who financed much of the cost of the recall effort against Penman and two council members, Morris was pointed in his description of how he saw those usual politics.

“To have an end to that legal reign of terror is really a critical part of (the city’s) renaissance,” Morris said.

Penman, who has gone toe-to-toe with Morris on disagreements that sometimes went back years or deep into the particulars of an issue, said Wednesday that he respected the voters’ decision and saw nothing to be gained from arguing now.

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