Last week’s meeting of the San Bernardino City Council officially kicked-off the political campaign of City Attorney Jim Penman as he is seeking re-election. The mayor and city council meeting is designed to conduct the business of the public, not personal political agendas of elected officials. However, in my opinion people like Mr. Penman and others take advantage of the kindness of the mayor and council members when called upon to speak.
Early in the agenda, council members have time so they can make announcements that might be of interest to their ward constituents. Over the years they have extended this privilege to others like the chamber of commerce, city attorney, city manager and city clerk. All of them have shown respect towards the mayor and council with the exception of one, Mr. Penman.
This past meeting he decided to accuse the mayor, who was absent, mayor pro-tem and several members of the council of being corrupt and referenced a county grand jury report that had absolutely nothing to do with the council meeting agenda. When Mayor Pro-Tem Fred Shorett asked Mr. Penman to stick to the agenda and narrow his comments, Penman became argumentative and attempted to give a history lesson of the constitution and the greatness of the founding fathers for confrontational government. Penman was reminded by the local president of the NAACP that her recollection of the founding fathers were that they were also slave holders, which did not bode well with Mr. Penman. In my opinion, one of the reasons Mr. Penman likes to reflect on the founding fathers is because his birthplace is Mississippi one of the largest slave holding states in the union. Remember the saying…you can take the boy out of the country but cannot take the country out of the boy.
Some might wonder why Mr. Penman takes on this confrontational and argumentative behavior at a meeting designed for the mayor and council members. Penman has outside supporters and sponsors like: former mayors Evelyn Wilcox and Tom Minor (who is also a retired police chief); retired police chiefs B. Warren Cocke and Ben Gonzales; former council member Betty Anderson; the San Bernardino Police Officers Association; and the Central Labor Council of San Bernardino County so Penman is not pulling these bizarre antics alone, that serve no good for the city’s image.
I am well acquainted with Penman’s supporters because I have at one time worked with and supported them. However they appear to be stuck in a time of the past and do not want to move forward and let the city become what it could become as the county seat. I know why the police association wants Mr. Penman to behave that way as it takes the attention away from the fact that only 34 out of 304 police officers live in the city while we pay them each on average $128,684 a year of our money.
What Mr. Penman is offering is definitely not legal advice to anyone and I am recommending to the mayor and city council some steps they should take:
1. Remind everyone this is a public meeting for the mayor and council;
2. Do not allow anyone to give public announcements during the council meeting other than at the public comment 3 minute section on the agenda;
3. Whenever a council member raises the question “is the action before
us legal”, a consensus (majority) of the council members should request a written request be sent to the city attorney for a written legal opinion on whether the action taken is an appropriate legal action, within their authority and law before being implemented by staff;
4. If the city attorney interjects himself into the discussion and does so in a confrontational demeanor he should be ruled out of order and if he continues he should be placed under arrest by the chief of police, your sergeant of arms, and escorted to jail for disorderly conduct at a public meeting. (Former mayor and now supporter of Penman, Tom Minor can tell you how to do that since he came off the dais during a council meeting to wrestle a public speaker for disorderly conduct.)
5. Make it known that the three-minute public speaking period will not be used to make political campaign statements for or against any candidates. Any one who violates this directive of the council, the microphone will be ordered off as the speaker continues to speak. This is a public meeting of our elected mayor and council members and they are within their authority to implement these rules and procedures to conduct the business of the public in an orderly manner.
If the city attorney wants the public to know something he can do it in another way but not at the city council meeting, where he is currently taking up precious time to toss disparaging allegations and accusations at innocent council members even when they are not present.
It is a meeting of the mayor and council and they should take charge of it and conduct the people’s business of the city.