San Bernardino council continues squeezing mayor’s role – San Bernardino Sun

Boy, first the San Bernardino City Council censured the mayor, then it slashed his pay and now it wants to eliminate his job. That would be via a ballot measure in June to amend the city charter to get rid of a full-time mayor.

I don’t know what the next logical step is. Maybe when people ask about Mayor John Valdivia, council members will gaze into the distance and say: “Valdivia, Valdivia… Nope, never heard of him.”

In the meantime, Valdivia showed them: He skipped Wednesday’s council meeting.

Like Riverside, San Bernardino has a seven-member council with an eighth person, the mayor, who presides over the meetings but can cast a vote only in rare instances. There was no explanation for Valdivia’s absence, but he does miss meetings now and then, and surprisingly, no rule says he has to be there.

It was a very different meeting without him. Councilman Juan Figueroa ran the meeting as mayor pro tem, and it was the mildest affair in some time. There was healthy discussion, generally respectful. And the public had no one to attack.

Without the star of the show, it was like a Pips concert without Gladys Knight. Or “a very special episode” of a long-running series, where the main character is out — a contract dispute, maybe — and suddenly the supporting players are in the limelight.

It was a nice change of pace, but drama was sorely lacking.

“Mayor pro tems have done a better job than the mayor at running meetings,” Councilman Theodore Sanchez said at one point, complimenting Figueroa and predecessor Sandra Ibarra. “We don’t have the mayor yelling at people and gaveling us down. There is a better way and we’re showing you tonight.”

The idea is that San Bernardino can take a page from some smaller cities and rotate the mayor’s position annually among themselves. They would have more incentive to get along because a chosen mayor could always be unchosen.

Also, dumping the mayor and his staff would save $367,000. That’s not nothing. Also, that figure doesn’t include all the legal fees and staff time in dealing with employee complaints against him. The election would cost an estimated $50,000.

As you may recall, in the charter update of 2016, the mayor’s responsibilities were greatly reduced by putting day-to-day operations in the hands of a city manager. But, a bit strangely, the mayor’s salary was untouched.

Last month, a council majority voted to cut that $112,536 salary by more than half to $50,000, to take effect after the November election. Wednesday they followed up by seeing if voters would go along with eliminating the job.

“The mayor really has no authority anymore. He’s kind of a figurehead,” argued Councilman Fred Shorett, whose idea this was. “Our current mayor isn’t even here tonight. I don’t know what kind of representation we’re getting.”

Two potential mayoral candidates spoke. Bear in mind that they may be running for a job that will no longer exist.

“I’m fully in favor of this,” Treasure Ortiz said. “Regardless of the fact that I’m running for mayor, democracy is democracy. We made a council-manager form of government for a reason.” She said that night’s meeting was a preview of a better future.

Jim Penman, however, said voters shouldn’t be asked to “surrender their right to choose their own mayor.” A mayor, he said, might end up being chosen by only four members of the council rather than by thousands of voters.

Not all of the council was in favor. Ben Reynoso said some council members like himself who have outside jobs — they’re paid just $14,000 as council members — wouldn’t have time to serve as mayor.

That’s an interesting point, although I’m not sure it holds up. If the question is, “Do you have time to attend an event where you will be the center of attention?”, any self-respecting politician is going to reply, “I will make the time.”

Damon Alexander said rotating the mayor’s job in a city as large as San Bernardino would be a step backward. Ibarra said that during the charter review process, people “wanted to keep their mayor.”

Figueroa and Kimberly Calvin said voters would make the final call.

Ultimately, the motion was approved 4-2, with Alexander and Ibarra opposed and Reynoso abstaining.

We’ll see if the measure actually makes it to the ballot. If it does, voters will be scratching their heads in June as they’re asked 1) to select a mayor from a slate of candidates and also 2) whether they even want a mayor.

This was my fourth straight San Bernardino meeting. I may or may not continue to attend regularly — like the mayor, I’m not obligated to be there — but I admit I like them. Amusing moments abound.

The Animal Services Department got more than $3,000 in donations on what would have been Betty White’s 100th birthday, and as the assistant city manager expressed it, “both the staff and animals are grateful.”

One speaker who called San Bernardino “a diamond in the rough” went on to slag it off, saying all its neighbors “are doing better than us” — including “Colton, for god’s sake.”

Another speaker brought up a wide range of matters in his three minutes. His son has joined the Marines, an intersection is presenting a problem, his family is subjected to “organized gang stalking” by an ex-probation officer, and finally, “happy Lunar New Year.”

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