San Bernardino Recall Effort Should Not Have Been A Surprise

By Samuel Williams, Jr.

From the view of a vigilant political observer, news of a voter recall effort should not have come as a surprise to city officials or their constituents.
In early April 2012, in his “City of San Bernardino State of the City” address from the backdrop of the Sturges Center for Fine Arts, the city’s mayor Pat Morris delivered a prophetic warning regarding the city’s fiscal situation. Morris said San Bernardino was “a city that is teetering on the verge of financial insolvency. A city government, that unless dramatically overhauled and reshaped, will be unable to deliver and maintain vital public services required by its citizens and business for daily life.” The mayor described the city’s financial structure as “quicksand” and cited a $16 million deficit for the coming year — 12 percent of the total budget — that will grow to $60 million by 2016 if not addressed. He said the city needs to take on the issue of pension reform, saying retirement costs for city employees are growing unsustainable. Morris said he backed Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal that would require government employees to contribute more to their pensions and increase retirement ages. Morris even made the comparison of San Bernardino to 18th century Paris, using the analogy from Charles Dickens novel, saying the city was “in the best and worst of times.”
Morris said “we have the same people attending, coming to the podium to speak, but after a while they are tuned out.” Mayor Morris believed then that fresh voices and ideas would cause city council to pay attention to issues facing
the city. The mayor likened the city plight to “a tale of two cities”. The up sides are what the mayor termed as the “four pillars”: safe streets, economic development, environmental sustainability and education. In addition, the mayor said he had high hopes that the developing “rapid transit transportation system will revolutionize travel in the city.” Likewise, the mayor said the new $350 million Justice Building was a plus and would be augmented by the revamped freeways and 13 bridges that would open up the west side of the city for easier access. The down side of the city is the personnel salaries and pensions agreements with police and fire unions the city is current locked into. The mayor said 80% of the city’s budget was dedicated to paying police and fire salaries and pensions.
Morris said what complicated the budget issues was the fact fire and police personnel can and are retiring at the age of 50, which caused a strain on the current budget. While the city was able to handle these salaries in the past, the home foreclosure debacle from a few years ago resulted in the foreclosure of 5,000 homes in the city alone and caused a 65% depreciation of property values. Money the city once relied on in property taxes was no longer there.
The mayor also voiced his concern that the city is under a charter that does not fit the region’s economic climate. According to the mayor, the charter was “dysfunctional and extreme” and made the city “politically chaotic, and everybody thinks they are in charge.” It seems that people “think little of the city as a whole and more of themselves.”
In August 2012, the mayor’s prophecy came to fruition. The city of San Bernardino informed its 200,000 residents and the nation of its intention to file an emergency petition for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy” with a regional U.S. bankruptcy court. But San Bernardino was not the only city driven to such desperate measures. In California, the cities of Mammouth Lakes and Stockton had also filed bankruptcy in the wake of mounting fiscal challenges. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and later Detroit, Michigan would join the dubious list of failed financial municipalities.
On April 29, 2012, San Bernardino Residents for Responsible Government (SBRRG) filed a Notice of Intent to Circulate a Recall Petition for all seven members of the San Bernardino City Council, Mayor Patrick Morris, and City Attorney James Penman. The PAC will begin efforts to gather enough signatures of registered voters in the City to qualify a Recall on the November 5, 2013 city-wide ballot.
SBRRG is a coalition of concerned residents, business owners and community leaders whom on the organization’s website made their objectives crystal clear. It states: “There is a better future for San Bernardino! Together, we can restore our community to its legacy as an All-American City and wonderful place to live, work and play.
Replacing failed leadership is the important first step in unifying and restoring our city. Our goal is to gather enough signatures of registered voters in the City to qualify a recall of all elected officials on the November 5, 2013 city-wide ballot.” The strategy seemed to work.
According to San Bernardino City Clerk Gigi Hanna, the SBRRG’s efforts have netted a November 5 recall vote for three city officials: City Councilmembers Wendy McCammack (7th Ward) and John Valdivia (3rd Ward) as well as City Attorney Jim Penman.
“There will be a question on the ballot specifically asking the voter if they believe the current candidate under recall should be recalled,” Hanna said. “Then there will be candidates listed who are running for that office.”
Councilwoman McCammack faces the most opposition for her seat since five people have declared their candidacy: Joshua Williamson, Jim Mulvihill, Nick Gonzalez, Paul Sanborn and Mike Thomas. Councilman Valdavia faces one declared candidate: Roxanne Williams. Attorney Penman faces two declared candidates: Tim Prince and Gary Saenz.
SBRRG member Scott Beard said the organization as a whole are pleased. “In a perfect world, of course we would prefer From the view of a vigilant political observer, news of a voter recall effort should not have come as a surprise to city officials or their constituents.
In early April 2012, in his “City of San Bernardino State of the City” address from the backdrop of the Sturges Center for Fine Arts, the city’s mayor Pat Morris delivered a prophetic warning regarding the city’s fiscal situation. Morris said San Bernardino was “a city that is teetering on the verge of financial insolvency. A city government, that unless dramatically overhauled and reshaped, will be unable to deliver and maintain vital public services required by its citizens and business for daily life.” The mayor described the city’s financial structure as “quicksand” and cited a $16 million deficit for the coming year — 12 percent of the total budget — that will grow to $60 million by 2016 if not addressed. He said the city needs to take on the issue of pension reform, saying retirement costs for city employees are growing unsustainable. Morris said he backed Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal that would require government employees to contribute more to their pensions and increase retirement ages. Morris even made the comparison of San Bernardino to 18th century Paris, using the analogy from Charles Dickens novel, saying the city was “in the best and worst of times.”
Morris said “we have the same people attending, coming to the podium to speak, but after a while they are tuned out.” Mayor Morris believed then that fresh voices and ideas would cause city council to pay attention to issues facingthat all people involved would be in danger of losing their positions,” Beard said. “But we are happy that there is the potential that seven of the nine sitting members can be removed. Aside from being able to position the recall of Penman, McCammack and Valdivia, you also have to factor in that Councilwoman Virginia Marquez (1st Ward), Robert Jenkins (2nd Ward) and Fred Shorett (4th Ward) are all coming up for reelection.
And of course the mayor is terming out so there will be someone new in his position. If we get seven new faces in those positions there is a real chance we can turn the city’s government around.”
Opponents of the SBRRG’s recall effort hurled a myriad of allegations at the group: a.) One accusation was that the SBRRG wanted to “rob” the water department to solve the City’s bankruptcy. The SBRRG answered saying the accusation was false and that they opposed moving or redirecting funds from the City’s Water Department to the General Fund or to solve the City’s bankruptcy. The City must have new leadership and new ideas to solve the bankruptcy issues.; b.) Another allegation was that the SBRRG was comprised of “out-of-town” or “Los Angeles” developers. The SBRRG denied that as well, stating that there are 10 core members of the Committee and a growing number of general members. The SBRRG said as of press time, no contributions have been received from any out-of-town or Los Angeles developer. The Committee, however; is not precluding contributions from those who live outside the City who feel that our current leadership is unable to create a safe, healthy, business-friendly city. There are many former residents, parents, educators and business owners who passionately support a better future for San Bernardino. In fact, opponents singled out one member named Scott Beard as an out of town developer. Again, the SBRRG clarified that Beard is a 14 year resident of the 7th Ward in the City of San Bernardino whose children and grandchildren have attended our schools. From his office in Rialto, he has worked in real estate
development throughout San Bernardino County, managing projects that have brought substantial revenue to dozens of San Bernardino-based contractors and businesses.
He is a Building Commission Board Member and the Responsible Officer of San Bernardino Residents for Responsible Government, thus serving as its primary spokesperson; c) That the recall will be expensive to the city. The SGRRG refutes this allegation asserting the Committee deliberately scheduled this Recall effort to coincide with the regular City-wide ballot on November 5, 2013, in order to reduce cost-impacts to the City. The City will be required to certify the signatures on the petition and subsequently expand the ballot, but otherwise there are relatively few additional added expenses. The estimates of the costs of the election are just that, estimates. But while this will add some costs to the November 5 election, it’s important to realize that the Recall Process is a guarantee of our democracy that allows a citizenship to take action against failed leadership. In fact, the SBRRG asserts there have been attempts by Council Members and the City Attorney to delay the recall in order to cause a “special ballot” that would cost the City substantially more money. To date, we have defended the Recall documents and the challenges that would have delayed the vote to a special ballot; d.) There is not a list of candidates beholden to the Committee members. The SBRRG insists it is not a candidates’ committee and cannot provide political support to candidates under our formation guidelines. The Committee insists it is in support of the Recall only; e.)The recall will negatively impact the bankruptcy proceedings. The SBRRG said this action has no impact on the pending bankruptcy proceedings – it merely would change who will represent the City before the Court, who will decide on the City’s actions, and what direction will be taken. It will have NO bearing on the City’s eligibility before the bankruptcy court or require the proceeding to be dismissed; and f.) The recall will cause the City to dissolve. The SBRRG said no, it will not cause the city to dissolve. The SBRRG argues that If they do nothing, our leaders will continue to languish and do nothing to help this City emerge from the bankruptcy. As residents, we need to move our City forward in a direction to restore fiscal responsibility; leadership; and integrity.
Beard said it was ridiculous for opponents to call him an out-of-towner but attributed the allegations to a desperate attempt to discredit the recall effort.
“We needed a majority if not complete change in our government with completely new people who have new and fresh ideas that will take us in a positive and different direction.”

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