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Board of Supervisors Chair invites public to weigh in on charter modernization
The foreword to the 101-year-old Charter of the County of San Bernardino begins with these sage words from the Greek philosopher Aristotle: “Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always remain unaltered.”
Indeed, the County Charter has not remained unchanged; voters have approved more than 30 amendments to the governing document since its adoption in April 1913.
Yet even with those changes, the Charter is outdated in many ways. It contains provisions that are no longer applicable or relevant to the County, it neglects to clearly define lines of authority, and it fails to incorporate modern ethics or best practices provisions such as requirements for campaign finance rules.
It’s time to take a comprehensive approach to modernizing this important document to ensure that it provides the clearest and most efficient roadmap to governing our great County in the decades to come.
In October, I held a public meeting at my Rancho Cucamonga office to discuss potential changes and additions to the County Charter. The meeting generated some interesting conversation about ways to bring the document into the 21st Century.
We discussed incorporating provisions to clearly define the roles of the Board of Supervisors and the appointed County Chief Executive Officer. This is necessary to ensure the Board’s authority to set policies and adopt the budget is unambiguous.
We debated how to include language prohibiting Supervisors from inappropriately interfering in the day-to-day operations of County employees, such as telling Code Enforcement to go easy on a politically connected resident or directing County planners to approve a development project before it has been properly reviewed.
The group also talked about how to fill vacancies on the Board of Supervisors or in other elected County offices such as the Sheriff or Assessor. Under the current Charter, the Board of Supervisors must make these appointments or, if the Board cannot agree, the Governor makes the appointment for us. We considered several options including requiring special elections and giving the Board the option of calling a special election or appointing.
In addition, we discussed strengthening term limits for Supervisors, developing guidelines to redraw district boundaries (i.e. redistricting), and organizing regular reviews of the Charter to ensure it stays current.
San Bernardino County has changed significantly since its governing charter was adopted more than 100 years ago, and provisions such as the requirement for the Chair(man) of the Board to physically be in the County office during the workday and for Supervisors to set judges’ salaries are simply out of date. The Chair can be reached anywhere, anytime nowadays with this “new” device called a cellular phone, and the Board stopped setting judges salaries years ago.
Over the coming months, my Board colleagues and I plan to hold public discussions to generate ideas on how to best modernize the County Charter. I look forward to reviewing their proposals and to working with them to develop a comprehensive Charter reform package that can be presented to voters for their consideration.
In the meantime, I invite residents to send me their thoughts or suggestions for possible Charter measures or on any County issues. I can be reached at SupervisorRutherford@sbcounty.gov.