San Bernardino Charter Reform Must Happen Now

San Bernardino Charter Reform Must Happen Now
Hardy L. Brown

Hardy L. Brown

I have heard that the firefighters’ association is planning to intimidate the voters of San Bernardino and scare them into not changing Section 186 of the city charter. The mayor and city council appointed a volunteer citizens group to review the charter and report recommendations back to them of things they think should be removed, changed, or modified to allow them to better manage the affairs of the city and provide services for the citizens. This committee recommended and the council agreed unanimously to accept the committee’s recommendation to put the issue before the voters in November 2014.

This has led to widespread speculation that the firefighters’ association will flood the voters with misinformation during a door-to-door campaign as they have done in the past. Intimidating voters, in some cases, with implied threats of bad service if they vote to change Section 186. The misinformation has already begun at Temple Missionary Baptist Church where they held a community meeting with invited guest, a Black Deputy Chief from Compton. It is funny to me that they know how to find Black people when they want to use them but cannot find us for employment in the department.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the firefighters have done this door campaigning while in uniform before. I think the council should look into adopting a policy to prevent wearing uniforms when not on official city business.

The tactics used by the firefighters’ association sounds like voter intimidation to me if ever there was intimidation. Intimidation is defined as: “to make timid; to make fearful” as in intimidating a witness or voter. Some related words for intimidation are bullying, to frighten, hound, harass, and strong-arm. When a firefighter in uniform says to a voter, “who is going to come to your house during a medical or fire emergency if you vote for this?” This sounds official and is intended to put fear into any citizen, but especially elderly voters who might need that service.

Mind you section 186 has nothing to do with the quality of services the firefighters deliver but everything to do with guaranteed salary and step increase adjustments as compared to other financially well off cities.

The City of San Bernardino is the only city in the state that has such a section in its charter. What the committee is recommending is for the city and public employee associations do this type of negotiation through the collective bargaining process like all of the other employees in the city.

Also, the current city charter states it is: “established to promote economic, environmental and cultural prosperity throughout our community in public service and to ensure equality of opportunity for every resident and provide for accountability.”

This has not been the case when it comes to the economic and equality of opportunity within the fire department in regards to recruitment, hiring, and promotional opportunities. According to 2014 statistics of the 120 individuals listed as firefighters: there are two Asians or one percent; six Blacks or five percent; 19 Latinos or 15 percent; and 92 Whites or 77 percent which to me is an all-male club with one or .08 percent White female firefighters. Currently we have four or 3% firefighters living in San Bernardino, which is down from the 12 that were listed in a 2011 report.

There are 25 non-firefighters working in the fire department of which 17 are female and only seven live in the city. In my opinion, depending on how you interpret this information, we have already outsourced our fire department to other cities.

According to one study, over $40 million dollars leaves the city each and every year when our public safety employees – both fire and police – leave work and go to a home that is anywhere but here. From the latest reports between 68% and 72% of the general fund budget now goes to the police and fire departments.

Since the city filed bankruptcy, they were obligated and had to give these departments over $1 million in salary increases because of Section 186 in the city charter, while other employees were taking salary cuts to help keep the city afloat.

To their credit, the police did make concessions by negotiating with the city on give-backs to assist during the financial crisis while the firefighters have held to their legal position and not negotiated anything. Now they are sponsoring an initiative to have the voters give them over $6 million more. They need over 11,000 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot so I am urging citizens to refrain from their rhetoric and not sign any ballot measures.

(To be continued…)

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