“Perception is Reality” is said over and over throughout our daily conversation these days in America. We use it when people believe something to be true or not or when there is evidence to support their belief. Now that the election is over in the City of San Bernardino, it appears to me that the firefighters and police officers associations are now in control of the city council and the city attorney after spending over $100,000 for those candidates. I know these elected officials will say their support will have no influence on their vote but I have witnessed these associations receive more support than the chiefs who are hired to manage them.
With the election of 3rd Ward Council member John Valdivia, he will join Chas Kelly, Wendy McCammack, and Robert Jenkins giving them a majority vote on the council. All of them are independent thinkers but will sing to the same tune when it comes to compensation and benefits for the police and firefighters at the expense of other departments and services within the city.
One could argue that the citizens had a chance to be heard and they did, while less than 10% made the effort to vote in the election. If we did not have a vote by mail opportunity, the voter turnout would have been even lower because 7.7% cast their vote that way and only 2.3% went to their local polling locations. So the other citizens will have to live with what less than 10% of the population wants to happen in the city.
Now we will see what the police and firefighters will put forth as an agenda to govern the city while working within a struggling economy and budget deficits. It will take some working together if the city is to move forward but it will be difficult from the battle lines that have been drawn from prior years of political wrangling by the city attorney and some council members and the mayor.
The city is facing an unemployment rate of over 15%, with over 34% living below the national poverty rate. The city also faces a decline in revenue because businesses and middle class income citizens are leaving and setting up housekeeping in other cities like the police and firefighters. The police and firefighters are responsible for moving over $40 million out of the city each and every year so it will be interesting to see what they recommend in solving the budget problems. It is clear to me that if something is not done with city charter section 186 and the 100% pension paid by taxpayers, the city is headed into bankruptcy and everyone will lose. Section 186 should be a collective bargaining issue that is negotiated during contract session and not an automatic pay raise based on other communities with greater financial resources; that is what collective bargaining rights are all about.
It will be interesting to see what this group recommends for other departments within the city to do when it comes to reductions in spending or how to attract business development. It will be interesting to see what happens when the chief of police takes a policy stand contrary to what the rank and file officers think. Will they take a no confidence vote on the chief and be supported by council members? My perception is the associations and four council members will take the position that every department can sacrifice except public safety. The other perception is the city attorney will offer legal opinions that will support the police and firefighters arguments due to the financial political contributions to his campaign.
The reality is the police and firefighters are paid well for the service they render to the city. Over 90% of them take $40 million in salaries and benefits to live in other communities because they believe it is not safe for them or their families. They also have taken some of that money to support or buy council members to make sure there is no interruption of the taxpayer’s money to them. This is not a perception but reality, all you have to do is review the candidates’ campaign reporting statements, watch budget discussions of council members, and see how they vote on their issues.
So once John Valdivia takes the oath of office along with Chas Kelley, Wendy McCammack, and Jim Penman it is my “perception of reality” that the firefighters and police officers associations will be in control of the City of San Bernardino.
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