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Clash over Parolees Bitter Between Morris and Penman

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Chris Levister

SB Council Agree to 45-day Block on Group Homes

Mayor Pat Morris struck an angry aggressive tone Monday in his clash over   San Bernardino's exploding parolee population, portraying the city as vulnerable and accusing City Attorney James F. Penman of "being asleep at the switch". 

Hours after often bitter debate between the mayor, Penman and city council members over who's to blame for the mess the famously divisive City Council voted unanimously to block the establishment of parolee group homes for a period of 45-days.

"Unbridled, unscripted reality TV," recalls council meeting observers Donna and Otis Graham of the public showdown, as the city continued its intense effort to stem the growing tide of parolees.
The hotly debated parolee problem took center stage at Monday’s meeting of the San Bernardino City Council.

At last count the city of San Bernardino has 1,714 parolees of that number 513 are registered sex offenders - many of them living unmonitored in squalid ramshackle housing.  State law requires parolees to reside in the county they lived in when they committed their crime.   

Frustrated over the growing parolee population, Penman sought last month to launch an aggressive sweep of parolee housing, but was rebuffed by Morris and the council - largely because previous attempts failed to acknowledge on going enforcement efforts and ignored a long-range strategy of incorporating prevention and intervention along with suppression.

"This has been a problem for decades in our city, and we should have stayed on top of this issue and had better ordinances in place a long time ago," said Morris.

"Unfortunately the city attorney who is responsible for staying on top of these municipal code updates and new laws has been asleep at the switch," said Morris.

Penman responded angrily, telling the council that an aggressive crackdown on parolees in 2000 ridded the city of 200 parole violators.

"We don't need any new ordinances if the council will let us do what we did in 2000," said Penman.

"This is just hogwash," Penman said of the mayor's criticism. For weeks Penman and Morris have engaged in a finger pointing spar over the extent of the problem and who is to blame.

The moratorium allows the city to study how best to regulate parolee and sex offender housing, but most experts say a statewide solution is needed.

True enough, says, councilmember Rikke Van Johnson. "The governor and state legislature must be called to task. This is not something we can fix alone."

Several legislators including Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, (R-Redands) are working with the League of California Cities to pursue a gubernatorial proclamation to fix the problem.

The league is urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign an executive order requiring state departments to find a better way of distributing the parolee population.

"They are supposed to be integrated into the communities," Emmerson said of the parolees. "But if you have too many in one city, you're not integrating."

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