Poor bankrupt San Bernardino just doesn't capture the kind of attention over its situation that Detroit is getting. True, it's much smaller and never had the cultural cachet or success that Detroit had, and is known mostly for its connections to Route 66 and sort-of being the origin point of fast food.
But even though San Bernardino doesn't provide the image of a Kwame Kilpatrick-type political figure getting decades in prison for corruption, that doesn't mean the place isn't a huge political mess. It is.
Yesterday, one San Bernardino City Council member pleaded guilty to perjury and resigned, while a second council member had a host of charges filed against him. Usually when that happens, one would assume they were working together on some corrupt scheme. That's not the case. The two of them are charged with completely unrelated illegal activities.
Council member (and mayoral candidate) Chas Kelley pleaded guilty to perjury related to campaign statements. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kelley used money he raised on campaigns for non-campaign purposes and lied about it, to the tune of around $75,000 — not exactly Jesse Jackson Jr.-level ostentatious excesses. According to the Times, his plea agreement will have him serving weekend jail time or on work release for 90 days. He resigned from the council and dropped out of the race for mayor, but it's too late to get him off the November ballot.
While all this was going on, Riverside County next door filed a host of charges, both misdemeanors and felonies, against City Council member Robert Jenkins, who is running for re-election. You're going to have to forgive me for getting a little Gawker-ish about this case, but it's hilarious. Jenkins is accused of posing as his ex-boyfriend on Craigslist and placing ads on his behalf looking for sexy times in order to ruin the guy's relationship with his new boyfriend, resulting in the ex getting bombarded with (presumably filthy) text messages. We can argue whether this is something the law should getting involved in (indeed, according to The (San Bernardino) Sun's reporting, police initially refused to investigate), but in addition, Jenkins is accused of fabricating an internal memorandum from the San Bernardino Police Department to make it look like he was the victim. According to The Sun, Jenkins is maintaining this defense that he's the victim, claiming that his ex-boyfriend accessed his home and his e-mail accounts and planted the evidence. For all this stupid behavior, Jenkins faces 30 charges.
While all this is going on, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) announced it was appealing the judge's ruling giving San Bernardino permission to enter bankruptcy. San Bernardino earned CalPERS' ire because, unlike Stockton and Vallejo (two other California cities who are or have recently dealt with bankruptcy), San Bernardino stopped making its pension payments. The city stopped for a year but started paying them again over the summer. The outgoing mayor of San Bernardino has thrown his support behind a proposed statewide ballot initiative to give municipalities more power to negotiate changes to pension funds.
And while all that is going on, local voters will also have three possible recalls on the November ballot. Two other city council members and the city attorney are in the crosshairs for removal over the city's financial problems.
Phew! Is that everything? Actually, there's more. San Bernardino is one of the ailing municipalities highlighted in our "How to Break an American City" feature in the November issue of Reason. It's on stands right now!