Bankrupt Cities

San Bernardino: That Other Scandal-Ridden Bankrupt City

Two city council members embroiled in separate scandals on the same day. Meanwhile, voters deal with recalls and public pension representatives resist bankruptcy


Built over an Indian burial ground, perhaps?
Credit: jimmywayne / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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!


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  1. Could the common factor in all these cities going bankrupt be the electing of assholes?

    1. If you get the print Reason, the article focused on 4 deadbeat cities.
      It was not stated in the article, but every one is and has been run by the public unions through their D puppets.
      Unions are poor parasites; they kill the host.

      1. Five cities, actually.

      2. Almost all large cities are run by Democrats, and the larger they are, the more Democratic they tend to be — perhaps some cities in Orange County are the exception.

        1. Municipal elections in CA are officially non partisan so it’s hard to know what the political affiliation of most mayors and city council members.

          The real problem is the public employee unions which have a political stranglehold on the state at least as pernicious as the railroad barrons had 100+ years ago. They have absolutely no problem bribing republican as well as dem pols.

          Hell, it’s pretty much impossible to get elected to any office without their support.

        2. When government reaches a critical size, it becomes a jobs program.

  2. If anything nothing else good comes of this, at least it got Frank Zappa in my head for the rest of the day.

  3. FTAs the common factor seems to be electing independents without partisan political affiliations.

  4. Isn’t sloopy there? Maybe he can fix this mess. It just takes one libertarian, no?

    1. Just imagine how hostile the cops will be to Sloopy when he starts threatening their slush funds.

      1. Oddly enough, I met two really great cops (out of six) when the company truck got stolen. One of them is a SBPD detective that actually asked me to call him Matt instead of by his rank or last name. Good guy…

        …of course, I haven’t heard a peep out of the DA’s office yet even though they have a confession that the guy took it without permission and have records from the RCSD that he called them and said he parked it in front of his house to be picked up.

    2. Oh, I’m here alright. In a business setting, no less. And I’ve got a pretty interesting story to tell about a property we leased that was a crackhouse for over a decade until we took it over, dumped $300k into refurb…and then had the city revoke our building permit halfway through the process because they think we will violate zoning in the future. (They say it is not zoned for sale, rental or storage of commercial equipment, only non-comm passenger vehicles) Oh, and by the way, two properties down is where the private contractor that runs the city’s school buses stores and rents the buses to the city from.

      When I brought this up to the city planner (interim) and senior ass city attorney, they told me “but that’s for the kids”.


      1. You should have told them that your equipment was for the kids too.

      2. Was the phrase “but that’s for the kids” used unironically?

        1. I told him that I doubt that the shareholders of Durham School Services bought that argument.

          I then questioned his ethics in selectively enforcing zoning regulations while at the same time revoking a building permit for a perceived use violation that had yet to occur. The prick just smugly sat there and said he had a right to do what he was doing (even though he refused to answer where in the MC he was authorized to since the section he quoted said a specific violation had to be posted on the revocation notice) and would not entertain reissuance until we swore under penalty of perjury that we would not store or sell equipment from the site. So he criminalized their zoning regulations for just us.

          1. Wow, what a fucking shitbag. When does his “interim” period end? Maybe the new guy won’t be an insecure weasel and won’t feel like he needs to throw his weight around like that.

  5. …”it’s too late to get him off the November ballot.”

    If he’s the only D, he’ll be elected.

  6. True, it’s much smaller and never had the cultural cachet or success that Detroit had…

    “Cultural cachet?”

    Is there a Detroit somewhere else that I never heard of?

  7. 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.

    I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here and say that, not knowing the people personally, it is possible that Jenkin’s partner is a clever sociopath who indeed is trying to screw over his ex.

    Presumption of innocence and all that.

    1. He is a politician.

      Guillotining should be carried out immediately on his being charged.

      He can receive posthumous apologies in the unlikely event he is acquitted.

      1. In PaulTopia, he showed up when they called an election, automatic prison sentence.

  8. Is there a California city that isn’t run by completely corrupt douchebags?

    1. Yes. Jurupa Valley.*

      *They are in the process of disincorporating after only 2 1/2 years because they believe their city government is a burden on the homeowners in the area.

      And their city hall at the end of a low-rent strip mall.

      It’s a shame they’re not held up as a model for what California ought to be.

    2. There’s Berkeley. They’re just stupid.

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