SAN BERNARDINO, CA – Mayor Carey Davis broke a tie late Monday to impose new terms and conditions of employment on the city’s firefighters.
The vote implements budget cuts approved 5-2 in June, including the closure of a fire station and the elimination of so-called constant staffing. And, both the fire union president and attorney warned the decision means the union will sue.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury ruled last month that the the city could reject its existing contract with firefighters, but she rejected the city’s request to explicitly rule that they could therefore impose a contract of their choosing.
Fire union attorney Corey Glave sent an email to the mayor and council before the meeting saying that the proposed terms violate Public Employees’ Retirement Law and the city charter, and President English said he wouldn’t let that slide.
“Your firefighters put their lives on the line each and every day,” English said. “30,000 calls a year. We’re committed to the community – some for 10, 20, 30 years.”
English and others cast blame on City Manager Allen Parker, saying Parker hadn’t negotiated in good faith. Parker said he’d met every time the union was available, and had tried to meet with them more times than that.
Councilman Rikke Van Johnson was absent. Councilwoman Virginia Marquez, Councilman Fred Shorett and Councilman Jim Mulvihill voted for the imposition, while the opposition consisted of Councilmen John Valdivia, Benito Barrios and Henry Nickel.
“This is risking public safety, causing hysteria with our senior citizens, to pinch a few pennies,” Valdivia said, contrasting it with new hires and promotions approved Monday for about $560,000.
Parker spoke back against that, saying his negotiations and the budget were done as directed by the council and that he wasn’t the first to say police and fire needed to be cut.
“I am at least the third city manager you’ve had, consecutively, say it’s mathematically impossible” to balance the budget withour reductions to police and fire, he said.
Shorett vocally defended Parker, saying Valdivia’s allegations were fabricated and union members had lied, leading the two council members to yell over each other for most of a minute.
Earlier Monday, fire union attorney Corey Glave had sent a four-page 0 Comments to the mayor and council saying that if the council imposed the terms he would have no choice but to challenge it in court.
“It is clear that the pending motion on the City Manager’s Resolution is nothing more than political retribution for the SBCPF asserting its legal rights and protecting its members,” Glave wrote. “If the City was truly looking to move the City and its citizens in a better direction, it would be transparent in its actions, continue meeting and conferring with the SBCPF, and act in a nonpolitical and legal manner.”
In public comments before the vote, several tied the proposed imposition to Measure Q — the ballot measure that would eliminate the guarantee that police and firefighters be paid the average of 10 cities of similar population size.
That measure drew both supporters and opponents, each carrying yard signs, and spurred the first appearance at a council meeting for former City Attorney James F. Penman since his recall last year.
“If you think the council will pay reasonable, competitive wages to firefighters, look how they treat general unit employees,” Penman said, saying recent events show the danger of policing San Bernardino.
Supporters of Measure Q, who say the city shouldn’t base public safety pay on wealthier cities’ salary schedules, included resident Barbara Babcock.
And she thanked the police officers association for not campaigning on either side of Measure Q.
“Their silence has been deafening, and I thank them for that,” she said.
The police union’s vice president, Brian Lewis, responded by twitter that the union was no longer staying out of the campaign on Measure Q.