As an observer of the San Bernardino City Council meetings and the actions of City Attorney Jim Penman, I have drawn my own conclusions on his ongoing behavior. This past week was no exception as he rambled on one of the agenda items, he was requesting more money to contract with outside legal firms. He carried on for one hour and fifteen minutes repeating himself over and over again. He managed to insult the mayor, council members, city manager and budget director for the city. He called them stupid, bullies and used the term ‘shame on you’ as he pointed at city council members and called out each one of them by name. And he once again referenced the city manager’s annual salary which the council approved at least two years ago. None of those remarks had anything to do with the item so the mayor let him ramble on until Penman lost all the votes except one who would vote for anything that Penman wants.
Several things became clear to me and that is Penman does not like people who talk back or stand up to him. He also has in my opinion, the late J. Edgar Hoover syndrome of being power hungry and untouchable by others. Also like Hoover, Penman, born in Mississippi, has a touch of anti-Blackness in his blood towards Charles McNeely the City Manager. Hoover went after our beloved Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because Hoover thought King was too powerful as a Black man. Penman would be alright with McNeely, if McNeely was one of those who would not look him in the eyes and talk back. Some Southerners have a problem with Blacks who stand their ground, ask Trent Lott a former senator or Lester “Ax Handle” Maddox, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama or Bull Connor.
It also became clear to me that Penman is jealous and envious of the prestige and honor given to Judge Pat Morris, the mayor, by some members of the council and the community at large. Penman wants that so bad but it seems to escape him. Penman is also frustrated with the council that does not give him everything he wants, especially to question his requests. Now mind you the council, not the mayor, is responsible to the taxpayers for all of the money that comes into the city and how it is spent. The council took an oath to that effect, yet Penman questions them like a spoiled child that would say, you gave Johnnie some candy where is mine. My mom would say, boy, you had better be satisfied with what you got or I will take what you have back. In Penman’s case every department in the city including every employee has given up something on the city’s bad budget situation so this is Penman’s way to get back what he gave up earlier, according to the budget director. That is why he was angry with the director, she pulled the covers off his scheme and shell game.
Penman at one point suggested the council give him the money his private investigators took in from private citizens, banks and mortgage companies. Councilmember Tobin Brinker responded, Penman that would be like police officers saying to the council can I keep my job using the money from traffic tickets. Penman has this program of enforcing code enforcement violations for the purpose of collecting money for the city and the council called him on it. The same would be true if police officers were allowed to keep the money from traffic tickets, no citizen would be safe but we would have a rich police department.
Councilmember Rikke Van Johnson, stated to Penman all I ever get from you is political chatter and no legal opinions on anything, plus Johnson gave a list of cities in California large and small with similar circumstances with smaller budgets.
Councilmember Fred Shorett the new mayor pro-tem requested Penman to fall in line with other city departments and manage his department and reduce staff.
Chas Kelly who usually sides with Penman said very little and voted with Marquez, Brinker, Shorett and Johnson to give Penman his request but as a loan to be repaid out of next year’s budget.
During Penman’s hour and fifteen minute long dissertation, he recited all the mayor’s, councilmembers and police chiefs that have come and gone. I took that to mean I, (Penman) was here before you got here and I will see all of you gone like Chief Kilmer who just resigned because of me. That is why Penman took up time to swipe at city manager McNeely. What Penman does not know is that Black men like McNeely are used to guys like Penman. If you are familiar with the cartoon Dora the Explorer, there is a character named Swiper who is a fox. Now whenever the fox is around they say Swiper no swiping because he is always doing something he should not be doing. Well in the case of Penman around McNeely I would warn Penman no swiping before you get embarrassed.
Another thing became clear is that everytime he has a conflict, taxpayers are penalized because he has to hire outside attorneys and he has not learned how to try court cases that involve police officers by his own admission. In his twenty-three years as city attorney with over 50% of his case load being officer involved, he has not hired or trained one attorney with that specialty nor has he tried to gain the expertise in that area himself. To paraphrase Cheryl Brown, President of the NAACP, if Penman spent as much time on lawsuits filed against the city as he spends on trying to embarrass the council members, mayor and staff at council meetings we could move forward as a city and not need so many outside attorneys.
If Penman had not said enough during the regular meeting when it came to public comment, Penman got up for another three minutes in the capacity of a private citizen.
In my opinion the council is correct in demanding accountability from Penman even when he calls them names and tries to bully them.