San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 09/15/16 – 11:22 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> The proposed new city charter was cast as the way to end decades of destructive political infighting or a surrendering of self-government Thursday in a debate between the campaigns for and against changing the city’s governing document.

John Longville, one leader of the campaign in favor of Measure L, which would repeal the city’s existing charter and replace it with a new one created by a citizen committee, kicked off the debate at Little League Western Region Headquarters with an argument for replacement.

Like its neighbors, Longville said, San Bernardino has had a variety of leaders over the years, and the city has been affected by the same economic blows — including the loss of Fontana’s Kaiser Steel, then the repair functions at the Santa Fe Depot, then Norton Air Force Base.

But those cities didn’t file for bankruptcy; comparatively, they’re thriving, he said.

“We see neighboring cities able to function better than we are,” said Longville, whose political career includes stints as Rialto mayor, assemblyman and now president of the San Bernardino Community College District board of trustees. “It’s just the reality. Some of them quite well. Why is San Bernardino functioning so poorly?”

The reason, he said, is the 46-page charter first passed in 1905 and amended 135 times since then, which he said makes it unclear who is responsible for fixing problems and therefore breeds arguments.

James F. Penman, the city attorney from 1987 until 2013, countered that if San Bernardino’s charter were responsible for the bankruptcy, then the city would have gone bankrupt — as other cities did — during the Great Depression.

“The city charter is not the reason for the bankruptcy. Poor leadership on the part of certain elected officials and certain appointed officials is the reason we went bankrupt,” he said, pointing to the $4 million general fund reserve the city had when Mayor Judith Valles left office in 2006. “You can’t spend more money than you take in and not go bankrupt.”

And he said the arguments at City Hall weren’t over lines of power, but instead over issues officials were elected to address.

Penman pointed to the new charter’s elimination of elections for city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer and to its shifting of some responsibilities from an elected mayor to an unelected city manager.

“The new charter takes away your rights and your leadership in electing City Hall,” he said, arguing that it’s important those positions be directly responsible to voters, rather than to City Council members who would appoint them under the new charter.

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