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San Bernardino County, California

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Budget Y
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Meetings Y
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Elected Officials Y
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Administrative Officials Y
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Permits, zoning Y
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Audits Y
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Contracts Y
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Lobbying N
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Public records N
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Local taxes Y
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Transparency grading process

San Bernardino County is one of fifty-eight counties in California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 2,035,210, up from 1,709,434 as of the 2000 census. With an area of 20,105 square miles, San Bernardino County is the largest county in the contiguous United States by area, larger than any of the nine smallest states, and larger than the four smallest states combined.

San Bernardino County is located in the southeast of California, extending from the outskirts of the populous Riverside-San Bernardino Area to the Nevada border and the Colorado River.

The county seat is San Bernardino. The county is considered to be part of the Inland Empire region of California.

Website evaluation

Main article: Evaluation of California county websites

Last rated on Jan. 18, 2012

The good

  • The names and contact information for all board of supervisor members is published.[1]
  • Board of supervisor meeting agendas, minutes, and video streams are published.[2]
  • The names and contact information for all administrative officials is available.[3]
  • The complete budget is published.[4]
  • Audit reports are published.[5]
  • Information on building permits and zoning is available.[6]
  • Current bids and awarded contracts are posted.[7]
  • Information on taxes is provided.[8]

The bad

Budget

San Bernardino's FY 2011-2012 Recommended Budget of $3.8 billion is available on the county's website.[9] In order to improve accessibility and cost-effectiveness, the 2011-2012 budget includes the previously separate Annual Report and Business Plan documents. The budget itself now lists the annual goals and objectives of each county agency and department.

Budget policy direction is provided to the Chief Executive Officer by the Board of Supervisors. From October to December, departments submit their annual capital improvement fund requests and develop upcoming fee changes for the next year's budget. A five-year operating forecast is developed by the Finance Administration Department in January and February. Hearings and plannings throughout the Spring culminate in the presentation of the Recommended Budget in early summer. Final changes are noted in the Adopted Budget Book between July and September.[10]

Public employees

Elected officials

San Bernardino is governed by an elected five-member Board of supervisors, and has six additional county-wide elected officials.

Supervisor District
Brad Mitzelfelt, Vice-Chairman 1
Janice Rutherford 2
Neil Derry 3
Gary Ovitt 4
Josie Gonzales, Chair 5
Name Title
Larry Walker Auditor - Controller / Recorder / Treasurer / Tax Collector
Dennis Draeger Assessor
Michael A. Ramos District Attorney
Rodney Hoops Sheriff / Coroner
Gary Thomas Superintendent of Schools

Salaries

The county provides minimum and maximum monthly salaries on a position by position basis. No names of county employees are given along with their salary information. Elected officials' yearly salaries are as follows, as calculated from the provided maximum monthly salary:[11]

Position Salary
Board of Supervisors, Chair $161,445.96
Board of Supervisors $150,183
Auditor-Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector] $242,585.04
Assessor $196,491.96
District Attorney $200,439.96
Sheriff/Coroner $216,897.96

Pensions

Main article: California public pensions

San Bernardino county employees are enrolled in the San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA) pension fund. SBCERA provides both refundable and non refundable retirement contribution plans.[12]

In July, 2011, following a request through the California Public Records Act, SBCERA released data on all monthly retirement allowances. Initially, SBCERA refused to release the names of county employees receiving over $90,000 annually. Following a court order, SBCERA released all member names.[13]

The released information revealed that 446 retirees currently receive over $100,000 a year in pension benefits. As a whole, the agency pays out more than $278 million a year to 8,800 retired employees.[14]

San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford proposed sweeping reforms to county employee pension benefits, including a cap on benefits and restricting the practice of pension spiking. Assembly Bill 340, carried by Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair, prohibits county workers from cashing out unused vacation and sick time at the end of their careers. It also prohibits employees from spiking pensions with raises and bonuses awarded at the end of their careers. Last week, the county released a list of 595 county retirees who earn pensions of more than $90,000 a year. Of those retirees, more than 34 percent earn more than $100,000 per year, and 37 percent earn more than $200,000 a year.[15]

To prevent pension spiking, Rutherford proposes that an employee's final compensation be based on a three- to five-year average as opposed to their highest base pay in one year. She is also proposing:[16]

  • limiting pension allowances to no more than 70 percent of pre-retirement salary or a fixed maximum benefit cap. If an employee exceeds the salary cap, then the employee and the county could make additional contributions into a 401(k) type plan.
  • Voter approval for any benefit increases, similar to ballot measures adopted in Riverside and Orange counties.
  • Increasing eligibility age to keep pace with life expectancy trends and to discourage early retirement of productive employees.
  • Further limit post-retirement employment by cutting the amount of hours retirees can work for the county while still receiving pension benefits, known as double dipping.
  • Establish a hybrid retirement system like the one available to federal employees, which would include a mixture of a defined-benefit plan and a 401(k) plan.
  • Eliminate the ability to purchase additional retirement credits.

Lobbying

Main article: California government sector lobbying

In 2010, San Bernardino County spent $144,000 lobbying the federal government, with the lobbying firm Potomac Partners.[17]

For 2007 and 2008, San Bernardino County spent a total of $1,312,482 on lobbying the California legislature.[18]

Subsidiary Amount
San Bernadino County Sheriff's Department $313,625
San Bernardino County $998,857

Transparency & public records

County clears requests with unions

Starting in 2008, San Bernardino County officials adopted the procedure of notifying two unions--the San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA) and the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association--when the county is preparing to release information requested under the California Public Records Act that deals with county employees.

In December 2007, a local newspaper (The Sun and Daily Bulletin) published a database on its website of the names, positions and salaries of every public employee working for the county.

This prompted an outcry from the unions, and the newspaper subsequently removed the names of the employees from the website, but left information up about positions and salaries.

The SBPEA called the newspaper "anti-public employee." The SBPEA has also called the Los Angeles Times anti-public employee because the paper was looking for public information about the salaries of employees at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.

Ethics concerns in Assessor's Office

In the wake of a scandal involving staff members in the office of county assessor Bill Postmus, including the arrest of a top Postmus aide, San Bernardino Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Biane pushed for an Ethics Amendment to be added as the 39th amendment to the county's charter. Voters passed the amendment overwhelmingly in November 2008, with more than 80% in favor.[19][20]

This action capped several years of concern. In May 2004, San Bernardino County Grand Jury suggested that there should be public oversight in the hiring of staff members. A majority of Board of Supervisors staff members in 2008 were employed via contracts approved by the Board of Supervisors during public meetings. In August 2007, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury again expressed concern about the qualifications of the assistants to elected department heads.

In June 2008, the San Bernardino County grand jury concluded that Assessor Postmus had filled top positions in the assessor's office with political allies who lacked the necessary experience for the job.

Political corruption issues in the assessor's office, according to the Grand Jury, included:

  • Some of the assessor's staff used the county email system during work hours to participate in partisan politics and help organize election campaigns.
  • Severance pay given to a departing employee was excessive and highlighted possible abuses of the county's education reimbursement benefit.
  • Authorities arrested Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman on six felony charges that included destroying and falsifying evidence in an attempt to mislead the grand jury. Aleman has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Rex Gutierrez, a former employee of the San Bernardino County Assessor's Office, was ordered to pay $135,000 to the county as restitution. Gutierrez was sued by the County in an effort to recoup some of the losses it suffered to fraud during during Postmus' reign[21].

County Employee Fraud

Seven current and former deputies in the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office were indicted by a grand jury in a salary scam. Prosecutors contend that the deputies would present fraudulent evidence indicating that they merited salary and pension increases for training classes they never took[22]. The former deputies have appeared in court and the alleged thefts ranged to up to $100,000 when pension benefits were factored in[23].

Two former employees of the San Bernardino County welfare department were indicted by a grand jury for multiple counts of grand theft and misappropriation of funds. The alleged crimes took place over a period of five years and resulted in over $500,000 in financial losses[24].

The Press-Enterprise Co. v. SBCERA

On August 5, 2010, The Press-Enterprise Company submitted a request under the California Public Records Act requesting information on retired county employees receiving annual pension benefits above $90,000 from the San Bernardino County Employee's Retirement Association. Following the request, SBCERA released information on all benefits being paid out, but excluded the request for retired employee names. The Press-Enterprise Company filed a lawsuit in the county. The San Bernardino County Trial Court decided in favor of The Press-Enterprise Company, and ordered SBCERA to release all of the information initially requested.[25]

Taxes

San Bernardino's Tax Collector collects a county property tax. Taxes are payable online, and are assessed at the level determined by the state.

External links


References